MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland is working to make Memphis Police Officers and Firefighters the highest-paid first responders in the area. 

During his budget proposal at the city council meeting Tuesday night, he proposed a 14 percent pay increase.

The Memphis Police Department has been relentless in its battle to recruit more officers. However, it has been difficult since their officers make some of the lowest salaries in Shelby County. 

“We just let ourselves fall behind, and the gap continued to grow,” said John Covington, Chief Steward of the Memphis Police Association.

The Memphis Fire Department falls in the same boat. Memphis Fire Fighter’s Association President Thomas Malone said over 200 people left this year.

Both Covington and Malone say Memphis had the highest-paid first responders at one point, which drew people in from nearby departments. Now, they say things have flipped. 

“They are now recruiting our people and paying them higher wages,” said Malone. “They’re going over there and doing less work for more money.”

Right now, a Memphis Patrol Officer makes roughly $64,000. A firefighter EMT makes up to $60,000. Both unions say this falls far behind surrounding municipalities. 

Memphis Police Patrol Officers make the fifth lowest salary in the county. However, according to data collected by the MPA, MPD officers responded to nearly 800,000 more calls than those three departments combined in 2019.

“When our pay fell, and cuts in pension and benefits were made, we lost over 500 officers,” said Covington.

That’s why both unions say they fully support Mayor Jim Strickland’s proposed $792 million budget, which includes a 14 percent pay raise for firefighters and police. 

 “For the first time in many years, Memphis city police officers and firefighters would have the highest salaries in the area,” said Mayor Strickland.

Covington is thankful for the plan. “It just allows the department to catch its breath, to be more proactive, and, as I said really embed ourselves deeply into communities here in Memphis.”

The mayor is proposing a five percent pay increase for fire and police. He’s also proposing to convert the nine percent police and fire two to five-year retention bonuses to a permanent salary increase.

If passed, the base salary would go up 14 percent on July 1.

The unions say Memphis first responders are spread thin, and the raise would be a sigh of relief. “I think we’ll see an increase in recruitment, retention, and subsequently, we’ll see crime fall,” said Covington.

During the Mayor’s final proposal, he said his budget does not include an increase in property taxes.