Billboard on Poplar highlights record homicide stats, creates controversy

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Thursday meant business as usual for Blake Perkins, who runs the counter at Captain JJ’s Fish and Chicken on Poplar Avenue.

But outside, there was something new for customers to see.

The Memphis Police Association put up a billboard on the westbound side that read: "Welcome to Memphis. 228 homicides in 2016. Down over 500 police officers."

Mike Williams is the president of the Memphis Police Association, the group responsible for the billboard.

"We have to come to the realization of this is where we are whether you like it or not," he said. “You can do a campaign to recruit police officers. But it's never going to happen until you make some drastic moves and that’s to restore benefits.”

He was referencing the defined contribution plan officers have now, rather than the defined benefit plan they had in the past.

Williams said a guaranteed pension under the defined benefit plan would attract more officers.

But the mayor’s administration said it was doing all it could to provide good health care, while balancing the economic health of the city.

"To restore benefits to pre-existing levels in the way MPA feels we need to do would require a significant tax increase. It’s one the citizens of Memphis can’t afford right now,” chief communications officer Ursula Madden said.

She also said the billboard sent a bad message to visitors and Memphians alike.

“Those types of signs undermine the confidence in the people who are here to protect and serve,” she said.

Some of the people driving by agreed, including a woman who said she was related to one of 2016’s homicide victims.

“I don’t think that’s appealing to entice anyone to come and work for the Memphis Police Department," one woman said.

As for Perkins, who`s not originally from Memphis, he knows he'll be taking it in every day.

"I think its good people see it, recognize it, know what`s going on," he said.