MEMPHIS, Tenn. – More than 300 MPD officers have called in sick since June 30 according to Police Director Toney Armstrong.
That’s a big jump from the 181 who had called in as of Saturday, and it’s more than 10% of the force.
In a rare Sunday news conference, Armstrong appeared with Mayor A C Wharton and CEO George Little.
City officials are calling this a ‘Blue Flu.’
Officers are believed to be calling in sick to protest next year’s budget that increases health coverage cost and eliminates a subsidy for retirees, instead of increasing property taxes, to pay for the unfunded pension.
The changes affect all city employees, but police and fire have been the most vocal.
“We have a responsibility to provide public safety,” said Armstrong. “It has been challenging to fill all of our staffing levels, but at this point, no citizens are at risk.”
Armstrong said contingency plans are in place, and those who called in sick could face discipline even termination.
He said he has approved overtime, forced Organized Crime Unit and TACT unit officers to hit the streets and asked Shelby County Sheriff’s Office for help.
Sheriff Bill Oldham sent deputies to help patrol Beale Street over the holiday weekend.
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office will continue to help the Memphis Police Department as needed, and said it will not affect the county’s safety, because it’s called in volunteer, reserve deputies.
Shelby County Sheriff’s Office states that “Public safety is of the utmost importance to all, and we will continue to support the Memphis Police Department to ensure that it is not compromised.”
“I feel like they are letting us down,” said Anner Sanders who lives in Frayser with her four kids.
She said in her neighborhood, crime is a problem.
“We need the police force, because there are too many dangers,” said Sanders.
While she’s hoping police and the city settle their differences before things get worse, sources told WREG the Blue Flu is gaining momentum.
Sunday, WREG is told only two officers showed up to work the day shift at the Mt. Moriah Precinct. We’re told officers are upset and hurt. They feel they are being forced to pay for the city’s financial woes.
“If there are alternatives, lets put them on the table,” said Wharton.
Wharton said the council’s personnel committee will have a meeting Tuesday to hear alternatives to pay off the pension, even though the city voted against revisiting the budget at last week’s meeting.
Despite rumors, the Memphis Fire Department reports it has not seen any spikes in firefighters calling out sick.