Due To Program Cuts Police Short When Traffic Issues Arise

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

See bottom of story for a Q & A with MPD

(Memphis) Union at McLean Avenue is a busy intersection anyway. 

So you can guess the chaos if traffic lights aren't working.

That's what happened Friday night.
The quick storm knocked down power lines and left drivers practicing their own road rules.

It led to traffic jams, car collisions, and some wondering where were the police?

We are still waiting for an answer.

Police haven't told us why the department didn't call in extra officers.

Steven S., a frustrated driver, posted on WREG's Facebook page, .

'Really wish police would have been at intersections. Dangerous situations'

We are told there were not enough officers on duty  to handle traffic Friday night.

It's part of an ongoing personnel shortage.

The Police Association President Mike Williams says officers who were on duty likely had their hands full, "A lot of times when you have power outages you have officers running to answer alarm calls all over the place. Then you have the criminal element that takes advantage of situations like that."

Police Service Technicians, or  PSTs used to  handle minor traffic issues.

But now those positions have been cut.

Now 30 or so officers in one precinct have to cover areas with 50 to 60- thousand people.

The union says calling in officers just to handle traffic, when it's not a critical situation, is not a good idea.

"Yeah we would like to see  more officers out there on the streets, but there has to be a reason when you have officers at home with their families or they are off duty," says Williams.

As for some officers writing speeding tickets while there was no one handling the traffic, police tell us  those officers ca'`t be pulled away to work traffic if they are working as part of a Federal Grant.

Below are questions sent to MPD and answers from a spokesperson:

1.       How were traffic issues due to power outages handled Friday?  They were handled in various ways. We had officers dispatched to some intersections. There were some intersections in which motorists treated them as 4-way stops.
2.       What is the protocol on traffic assistance, especially during power outages? If citizens come to an intersection in which the traffic light is not functioning, they are to treat it as a 4-way stop. Sometimes, the traffic lights automatically go to the flashing red light which should also be treated as a 4-way stop. If manpower is available (meaning not handling a call for service), officers are sent to intersections to direct traffic. Other factors taken into consideration are the size of the intersection, traffic, time of day, etc.
3.       We are hearing that MPD was out of officers Friday and state law does not allow them to call and force extra officers to come in. Is this true? Officers are required (or in your words “forced”) to report to duty during Level 4 incidents (ie, natural disasters, etc).  This incident did not rise to the level of a  Level 4 incident which requires the cancelling of all officers’ days off and working 12 hour shifts.
4.       Also, we are hearing that when the college requirement was dropped, the PST program was ended. PST recruits used to be sent to intersections in situations like these. (Were you trying to ask a question?)
5.       Is it true that some officers we see writing tickets are likely part of a Federal grant program and cannot be pulled away due to Federal rules. If officers are working under a federally funded grant (ie, GHSO grant: Governor’s Highway Safety Office grant), then they are required to remain in a specific area for a specific purpose and can not be assigned duties that do not coincide with requirements of the grant.   Whether it is a state or federally funded program there are parameters in which the officers must remain to meet the criteria of the grant and allow the City to be eligible for repayment of the overtime. These officers can respond to emergency calls that may occur while on these details but cannot be pulled away to handle non-emergency duties outside of the grant.