The City of Memphis may experience the first net increase in MPD officers since 2011, city officials report. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

The City of Memphis is reporting that the Memphis Police Department force of officers now numbers 2003 en route to a goal of 2300 by 2020.

Where the city stands in reference to its police complement was detailed at the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission Board of Directors meeting on Thursday.

“We still have a way to go to reach our goal, but I’m encouraged by our progress,” said City of Memphis Chief Human Resources Officer Alex Smith.

“We extend our thanks to representatives of the private sector who are supporting our work. I don’t think you can find another major city in America where private sector leaders have stepped forward to help make their city safer in such a direct, tangible way.”

Mayor Jim Strickland reached out to private sector leaders for assistance with police officer recruitment and retention through Memphis Tomorrow, which is composed of a number of major private sector entities in the city.

On Thursday, the identities were shared of the private sector entities contributing to the MPD recruitment and retention effort. They are:

American Residential Services, AutoZone, 
Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, 
Baptist Memorial Healthcare Corp., Dobbs Management Service,
 FedEx,
 First Horizon National Corporation/First TN Bank,

The Hyde Family Foundation, International Paper, 
Memphis Tomorrow,
 Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, Mid-America Apartments, Monogram Food Solutions, LLC, Southeastern Asset Management and SunTrust Bank.

Strickland has said growing the police department is his top priority and it is a key part of the local Operation: Safe Community plan to reduce crime.

“This is important progress since having a sufficient number of officers is crucial to public safety,” said Crime Commission President Bill Gibbons, who also serves as the executive director of the Public Safety Institute at the University of Memphis.

“Memphis had some catching up to do on police staffing when Mayor Strickland took office.”

From 2012 through 2017, MPD suffered a net loss of officers every year, with the total net loss amounting to over 20 percent of complement. Losses occurred due a combination of naturally occurring retirements as well as resignations, with resignations outnumbering retirements in 2013, 2014, and 2015.

This year, the City of Memphis may experience the first net increase in MPD officers since 2011. At the end of 2017, MPD had 1959 officers on the payroll. As of October 15 of this year, the number stood at 2003 officers, with a total of 38 new recruits expected to graduate in December.

A media release about the police officer totals noted that while some additional retirements and resignations will occur this year, “MPD appears poised to have well over 2000 officers by the end of 2018.”

In 2017, private sector entities committed $6.1 million in private funds to the Crime Commission to help the city recruit and retain more MPD officers.

That same year, 89 percent of eligible officers (those with 3 to 11 years of service) signed up for retention bonuses payable in installments over four years in return for a commitment to remain with MPD for at least that four-year period. As of October 15, 96 percent of those officers have remained with MPD and continue to be eligible for bonus payments.

“Safe communities create an environment where people want to live, work, raise their families and where businesses and the entire community can thrive,” said Bryan Jordan, chairman, president and CEO of First Horizon / First Tennessee Bank and recent chair of Memphis Tomorrow.

“We support the Operation: Safe Community Plan to help strengthen the safety and security of our community and are very encouraged by the progress.”

The Operation: Safe Community plan calls for an increase in MPD officers, along with 15 other major strategies involving the criminal justice system. The Crime Commission is quarterbacking implementation of the overall plan, but each of the strategies is “owned” by a particular agency or organization.

“After a net loss of over 20 percent of its police force, Memphis is now recruiting more officers than are leaving,” said Gibbons. “Every citizen of Memphis regardless of income, race, age, or neighborhood deserves to live in a safe environment.

“They have a right to be in their homes, sit on their porches, walk in their neighborhoods, and go to work or school without fear. A full complement of MPD officers is critical to making sure that is the case.”