MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WREG has confirmed the Memphis Police Department has cancelled regular days off and vacation days.
The cancellations are directly related to more than 500 sick calls since last Monday. Today, 522 officers were out sick.
Sources told WREG it’s mostly patrol officers, but six dispatchers and dozens of investigators have also called out.
Administrators say officers are calling in sick to protest the changes, so they’re having to ask the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office for help patrolling streets.
Police Director Toney Armstrong addressed the issue Monday evening.
He said MPD’s policy does allow them to require a doctor’s note, but they can’t call and demand someone come back to work.
What happens if an officer doesn’t have a note? Armstrong said they’ll look at each case individually to see if officers violated policy, specifically related to the number of occurrences of calling out sick. If they violate policy, they can be suspended or fired.
He explained one continuous period is one occurrence. After three days, the occurrence is considered a long-term absence. Policy says up to six months can count as a single occurrence if the officer has the days, like when suffering from a major illness, and Armstrong can approve six more months.
Armstrong said the department is still able to provide same level of services, and citizens are not at risk. He added they’ve had to do some things they don’t normally do and “It’s challenging, but at this point, public safety hasn’t been compromised.”
Up to 180 officers patrol the city each shift, of which there are four in a day. Armstrong said that number has not been affected, but special units are taking a hit. He’s had to pull people from Organized Crime, TACT, and Community Outreach Program and put them on the streets.
Armstrong said they’ve had to be creative, and even with the changes, there are no gaps within those units.
“The officers that are here have demonstrated that they want to be here…their level of dedication shows they’re going to be here, regardless,” he said.
He said there may be tension between those who went to work and those who called out sick.
“I certainly understand their level of disappointment and their level of hurt, but as I’ve said in the past, there’s a process and we have to respect that,” Armstrong said. “We have a certain percentage of our force that has chosen to take another action.”
When asked how he might feel if he were a first responder, Armstrong responded, “I’m still a first responder…and I’m still here.”
Armstrong said calling what’s happening a strike is a legal question, and that this is different from when officers publicly say they’re striking.
As for the cancellation of days off and vacation days, Armstrong said it’s never their intent to cause financial hardship for our officers, so it’s going to take some flexibility. He said they don’t want to create a problem, and can honor financial obligations concerning vacations.
Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams said officers feel betrayed by the health care changes.
“You can’t ask a police officer to run into an active shooter situation and get shot and say, ‘We want you to do that, but we’re not going to give you healthcare on the back end.’”
Fifty sheriff’s deputies and reserves assisted police Saturday night, as did 37 Sunday night.
“We are constantly in contact with Director Armstrong and we will continue to do all we can to support in order to keep this community, his officers and our officers safe,” said Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham.
The sheriff’s department said it is not affecting patrols in the county, because they’ve called in reserve deputies.
The changes affect all city employees, but police and fire unions have been the most vocal.