by James Coleman —
How large should the Memphis police force be? The public safety task force chaired by Councilwoman Rhonda Logan this week decided on 2,500 and advanced that recommendation toward a vote.
A resolution introduced by Logan accepting the recommendations was introduced during Tuesday’s Memphis City Council meeting. Advanced by the public safety and homeland security committee, the recommendations also include guidance for recruiting, hiring, training and recruitment of public safety officers.
The recommendations reflect five months of work by task force members and could be considered by the full council on Dec. 15.
“It was no small undertaking and we took it very seriously,” said Logan. “It’s given us five months to really get to know our public safety divisions. I hear them and see the work that they do close up and personal.”
Task force members included representatives from the city council, the police and fire departments, police union members, activists and the city’s chief human resources officer.
The Memphis Police Department now has about 2,100 officers. The additional officers would mainly be dedicated to community policing. The new number was an effort to split the difference between commissioned studies.
“We took the numbers from those studies, one was 2,400. We looked at where we are now and the attrition that needs to be covered is 150 to 200. Those losses would likely be attributed to factors like retirement or officers leaving the force,” said Logan.
Another study put the number of needed officers at 2,800. Following an outcry, that number was deemed excessive to the city’s needs.
“At this point, with the social climate as it is and the re-imagining of public safety, we didn’t want to overcommit at this point. That was a number that (Memphis Police) Director (Michael) Rallings as well as all of the committee members agreed on,” said Logan.
The recommendations came at the request of the Mayor’s office. The costs of additional officers are expected to be covered in the current budget.
“Anything the administration found undesirable in our recommendations, we were able to tweak it to make it work for both parties,” said Councilwoman Jamita Swearingen.
Recruitment of officers has been challenging.
“The issue we have is we haven’t been able to recruit 2,500 officers,” said Councilman Jeff Warren. “By the time we get that done, our budget may change. Our current budget probably doesn’t cover that. As we advance further, we will have to cover more officers and we may or may not be able to do that by reduction of overtime.”
He called the number aspirational, saying the math wouldn’t work unless overtime pay was eliminated. The problem would grow if more officers are retained in the future.
The recommendations also include the creation of “True Blue Tuesdays” and a partnership with the Shelby County Schools to engage youth about public safety and career options.
An audit of the Division of Police Services psychological test is also proposed, with findings to be presented to the Council’s Safety and Homeland Security Committee. Paid time off for mental therapy for officers would be required as well.
Public safety training hours would be increased from 920 to 960. That would include training in topics relevant to community policing such as conflict resolution and de-escalation, police ethics, just and fair policing, verbal judo, cultural awareness, gang awareness through social media, community policing, police corruption and civil rights violations.
“To better enable success in the community and cultivate the relationships necessary, creating a pipeline to public safety, a paradigm shift in the way we approach criminal justice and mental health are needed,” said Logan.