The Safe Community Plan calls for resolving shortages in law enforcement staffing (both in the Memphis Police Department and Shelby County Sheriff’s Office) and clarifying what the optimal staffing should be.
In 2011, the Memphis Police Department (MPD) had almost 2500 commissioned officers. By the end of 2017, the MPD had suffered a net loss of approximately 20 percent of its commissioned officer force. (At the end of 2017, there were 1.959 officers.) Law enforcement officials and others feel there are a number of factors contributing to this net loss, including:
- A change in pension and health benefits, which resulted in morale issues among many officers and increased retirements and resignations;
- For fiscal reasons, the failure to have classes of new recruits for two fiscal years to make up for retirements and resignations; and
- The increased level of stress being placed on police officers, the result being fewer qualified applicants.
The net loss of commissioned police officers has resulted in overuse of overtime pay to meet (1) basic coverage needs, (2) deployment of more resources into high crime areas or hot spots, and (3) coverage for large gatherings, ranging from festivals and sporting events to protests. Last fiscal year, the City spent over $25 million in overtime pay. This is not a sustainable model from a budgetary standpoint or from the standpoint of overworked officers often facing stressful situations.
In addition, the net loss in officers appears to have impacted the staffing of the investigative bureaus. For example, investigators in MPD’s homicide bureau appear to be handling well above the national average of cases per investigator. A 2008 FBI study noted the average homicide investigator handled a caseload of five investigations. As of 2017, MPD homicide investigators were being assigned as many as 15.
Under Mayor Strickland, the City re-instituted the Police Service Technician (PST) program, freeing commissioned officers from handling many minor traffic accidents, etc. and developing a pipeline for future commissioned officer recruits once PSTs reach age 21 and meet the educational qualifications.
In 2017, leading entities within the Memphis private sector committed $6.1 million over a five-year period to help the City pay for retention and recruitment bonuses for commissioned MPD officers and support innovative new recruitment and staffing strategies. Since the retention bonus program was launched, over 85 percent of eligible officers have signed retention agreements. The turnover or attrition rate has slowed somewhat and, in 2019, was its lowest since 2013.
Starting in 2018, the City began to see a net increase in commissioned officers due to more new recruits going through training and graduating and a slowdown in the turnover rate. At the end of 2018, the MPD had 2,020 commissioned officers compared to 1,959 at the end of 2017 and 2,081 commissioned officers at the end of 2019. While this represents a turnaround from the net losses of officers suffered from 2012-2017, the compliment remains far below what it was in 2011, and the City will fall short of it goal of having 2300 officers by the end of 2020.
While calling for an increase in the number of MPD officers to at least 2,300, the Safe Community Plan also calls for a true independent, zero-based staffing assessment to confirm the optimal staffing allocations and compliment size.
What is the optimal number of commissioned MPD officers needed to cover all of the precincts adequately, deploy additional resources into crime hot spots based on a data-driven approach, adequately staff the investigative bureaus, and provide sufficient staffing to special task forces and units, such as the Multi-Agency Gang Unit? What are the best staffing patterns and structures by rank and responsibilities? Are there positions within the MPD staffed currently by commissioned officers that could be staffed by civilians, thereby freeing up more officers for other assignments? Are there ways to scale back the MPD’s responsibilities and, if so, what impact would that have on staffing needs? An independent, zero-based assessment can help answer these questions.