Three police precincts Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said earlier might have to close if his department continues to take budget cuts will not close in the current fiscal year or the next.
That was the assurance Armstrong and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. gave several hundred Whitehaven residents Wednesday, July 31, in a hastily called town hall meeting at Berean Missionary Baptist Church.
The meeting was called after leaders of the church called Wharton last week concerned about rumors that the Raines Station precinct was about to close.
“That’s not true,” Wharton said at the outset of the hour-long meeting in the church sanctuary at Millbranch and East Raines roads. “We will be fair and open in any decision we make.”
Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong told Whitehaven residents he has no plans to close the Raines Station police precinct. But he warned that continued police budget cuts may force his hand in future fiscal years. (Daily News/Bill Dries)
But Armstrong said if his budget, the largest among city government’s various divisions, cannot include more police recruit classes in future years as well as funding for promotions and promotions testing, closing some precincts is a possibility beyond the next two fiscal years.
“I’m losing 135 officers a year,” Armstrong said, referring to officers who retire or leave for other jobs. “I can’t replace the officers that are leaving.”
The commitment to keep Raines Station open drew applause from the audience as Wharton added, “There is no painless way to live in the times we are living in.”
He drew criticism for the possibility in a budget season that included a property tax hike by city and county governments – both rates that Memphians pay.
“What are you willing to sacrifice?” a woman in the audience asked him. “You lead by example. We are always the ones who are suffering.”
“Y’all say one thing and do another, and I’m talking to the councilmen too,” Whitehaven resident Mildred Carroll added, referring to the presence of Memphis City Council Chairman Edmund Ford Jr. and council members Janis Fullilove and Harold Collins.
Ford reminded the audience several times that he didn’t vote for the budget that was approved, and that he favored a budget that would have laid off 100 city workers instead of the 50 agreed to by the council’s majority vote.
“What’s more important, ladies and gentlemen: 50 jobs being saved for people when they might not even live in the city or protecting 95,000 taxpayers?” Ford said.
He raised the possibility that the council could reopen the budget to consider adding 50 more layoffs, which would mean an estimated $3 million more in revenue for the city.
“We have something called mid-year cleanup,” council member Harold Collins said, referring to the January review of city finances at the halfway point in the fiscal year. “If they come to the council and say we need to hire, the council will do it.”
Collins’ plan, which included the compromise of 50 layoffs, was the one that got the council to a final vote on its budget and tax rate in late June. Collins reminded Armstrong that the police director told the council before the vote that he could cut 2.5 percent from his budget without endangering public safety or police layoffs.
“I have to make cuts in my budget. You probably have to make cuts in your budget. We all have to make cuts,” Collins said. “But when you tell me that the cuts will not affect personnel and public safety, I take you at your word.”
Fullilove painted Wharton as the villain who is forcing the bleak funding outlook, as she ignored the repeated assurances that no precincts will close.
“Do not let the mayor do anything to strip you of your dignity,” she said, standing just a few feet away from Armstrong. “If you have to stand by yourself, you stand by yourself.”
When Wharton tried to answer, Fullilove guarded the microphone.
“No, you can’t have this microphone,” she said. “This is serious.”
At the close of the meeting, Armstrong stood by the possibility that if the council continues its trend of past budget years, he could have to make difficult decisions like closing precincts.
“I’m not a politician. I’m never coming to you asking for your vote. The only thing I am is a police officer – the same thing I’ve been for the last 24 years. Every time that I come before you, I will tell you the truth,” he said in remarks that are certain to continue the ongoing debate at City Hall about the city’s finances. “It’s my job to come here tonight and tell you what I foresee coming in the future if we don’t make some adjustments. If the city does not adequately fund the Memphis Police Department, you are going to paint me – put me in a corner where I’m going to have to make some tough decisions about policing.”