Out of Ammo?
Will Memphis pony up to get more cops on the beat and thugs off the street?
When crime strikes in your neighborhood, Memphis has a crime problem. When crime strikes in my neighborhood, Memphis has a serious crime problem. When crime strikes me or someone close to me, Memphis' crime problem is out of control.
So what would you say? Depends how recently and how often you've been a victim. Enough people feel that crime is out of control that Mayor Willie Herenton and Police Director Larry Godwin suddenly changed course in September. They want 650 more officers within three years and $2.6 million for overtime right away. When they presented the police department's budget last spring they cut back on overtime and didn't ask for any additional officers to boost the current force of 2,018 cops.
"It's a new day and more resources are needed to fight crime effectively," Herenton said.
If you live in Memphis, be prepared to pay for them. If "more resources" means 650 more cops, then the cost will be significantly more than Herenton indicated it would be. His widely reported estimate of $47.8 million is just for 500 officers, and it only covers their hiring, training, and first two years' salary. Another 150 officers, using Herenton's formula, would cost an additional $15 million. And the costs go up each year after the first two years because of salary increases.
Moreover, not all of those new cops will be rookies. Some will be veterans from other police departments making lateral transfers. Michael Heidingsfield, president and CEO of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, says it will take about $65,000 a year plus benefits and a take-home car to entice experienced cops to Memphis. Herenton's projections were based on a starting salary and benefits of $45,000, and they only included overtime for one year.
Put it all together -- the additional cops, the lateral transfers, and the restoration of overtime pay -- and the mayor's recommended 50-cent increase in the property tax won't cover it. The true added cost would be more like 65 cents on the tax rate.
Will the Memphis City Council go along with that? Not likely, for three reasons.
First, that glaring late-summer headline "Memphis Is Second Most Dangerous City" actually applies to the Memphis metropolitan area including Shelby County, DeSoto County, and Crittenden County. Memphis isn't the only city that has to beef up its law enforcement. And not to put a gloss on it, but murder is a fact of life. Homicides in Memphis (135 at the end of September) are on pace to fall well short of the record 212 set in 1993.
Second, as Heidingsfield says, "Adding officers certainly can't hurt as long as they are deployed properly, but simply raising the number of policemen is never the long-term solution." He points to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., which have high crime rates and five officers per 1,000 residents compared to three per 1,000 in Memphis.
Finally, Herenton didn't make a recommendation for additional officers at budget-setting time, when council members were looking at the big picture and the hot topic was trimming fat and reducing overtime in order to restore the city's reserve funds. The mayor said it was months later when he looked hard at crime statistics and talked with rank-and-file officers and changed his mind.
What he didn't say publicly is that he also talked with business leaders in Memphis Tomorrow. Ken Glass, chairman of the influential group, confirmed that the tone of the meetings was urgent because of worries about the impact of crime on people and companies moving in and out of Memphis. The top executives, Glass said, want to see "proven ways of addressing crime, not artificial ones."
In other words, more effective cops, not just more of them. This is the same Memphis Police Department, remember, that is the focus of the ongoing multi-agency "Tarnished Blue" investigation of corruption. It's the same department that, three years ago, was letting criminals run the property and evidence room and steal confiscated drugs and money. In light of that, Heidingsfield thinks relaxing education requirements for cops, as Herenton proposed, is a step backwards.
"Without public confidence, the cause is lost," he says.
And without the confidence of the City Council, there won't be 650 new cops or a 50-cent property tax increase. At least not unless something happens to make seven members decide that crime in Memphis is "out of control."