Public Safety Task Force working to find ways to recruit and retain police and firefighters

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A new task force is focused on improving conditions for our city's police officers and firefighters, and recruiting more of them.

A Public Safety Task Force met to talk about what changes can be made to make sure our current employees will not leave for other cities due to issues such as benefits and retirement opportunities.

The task force is made up of representatives from the Police Department, Fire Department, Police and Fire Unions and the city, as well as one non-voting members and civilian.

Thursday's meeting was less about problem solving and more about determining what problems need to be solved.

Their goal is simple: keep the police officers and firefighters we do have and recruit even more.

But accomplishing that goal will be anything but easy.

The task force was formed to discuss ways to make the job of Memphis public safety worker more appealing.

Alexandria Smith, Chief HR Officer for the City of Memphis, said, "I think we have all the right players both in city administration and this task force to help make things happen."

Looking at whether the benefits package and pension can be improved is a top priority.

It's something task force members referred to as "the 800-pound gorilla in the room."

"When you cut pensions and benefits, people know that they're not going to have anything when they retire," Thomas Malone with the Memphis Firefighters Association said.

Smith added, "The question is what else can we do. How can we complement that? How can we look at that in itself to be able to create a very attractive benefits and compensation package."

Members said there is an 8 to 9% attrition rate for police and a 5 to 6% attrition rate for firefighters.

The struggle is to keep up with the number that are leaving.

"We have about 160 or so police officers that are leaving per year, and we're seeing roughly 55 to 60 firefighters leave per year," Smith said.

The Police Department has said it needs an additional 400 officers.

Police and firefighters interviewed by the task force said they are worried about their insurance, retirement and the ability to grow their careers in Memphis.

Malone said nine cities are actively trying to recruit our firefighters, with two more cities looking to come.

"How much do you pay somebody that risks their life every day? It's just that simple," he said.

The task force discussed educational incentives and other draws they can use.

But, in the end, members said they know it all really boils down to that gorilla: benefits and pension.

The task force will be holding a pension and benefits seminar next Thursday at 3:00 to dig into what, if any changes can be explored and presented to the council.