VOL. 132 | NO. 90 | Friday, May 5, 2017
Boyd Police Overtime Cut Approved
By Bill Dries
Of 10 Memphis City Council members present Thursday, May 4, for the ongoing review of the city budget proposal, half favored a move to cut police overtime and half did not.
The two efforts by council chairman Berlin Boyd to cut the $22.4 million line item – first by $5 million and then by $2.7 million – failed on tie votes both times with some council members switching sides from one vote to the next.
After a recess, the administration of Mayor Jim Strickland agreed to the lower of the two cuts and the council budget committee approved the recommendation.
With a cut in the line item, Boyd wants to give all other city workers a one percent pay raise in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
If police brass wanted to spend more than the reduced line item on overtime they would come back to the council for the funding by Boyd’s proposal.
“If there is a catastrophe, this council hasn’t said we’re not willing to give the money to police,” Boyd said. “At the end of the day, police have the money in their budget to fill the overtime void. They can get it through attrition.”
The argument ultimately prevailed in the first major compromise of the budget season at City Hall. It was also part of a larger ongoing issue.
A net loss of departing and retiring police officers over several years has put police ranks below 2,000. The city’s goal is to build the force up to 2,300. But the city won’t reach that goal in the next fiscal year. Meanwhile, the police budget includes those positions or the “authorized compliment” which is the basis for the funding proposal.
Police are the only city employees getting a raise in the operating budget proposed by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland with retention bonuses of 1-2 percent depending on how long an officer has been on the force.
Limiting the raise to just police and not extending it to other city employee groups is one factor in several contract talks between municipal unions and the administration going to impasse proceedings to be decided by the council.
“We’re going to have a bunch of asks,” Boyd said. “And of all the division within city government, police are the only division that received a raise. We’re receiving impasse letters left and right today. … We could have a whole bunch to figure out.”
The overtime line is part of a $261.8 million police budget request, $6 million more than the current fiscal year's budget.
The original $22.4 million line item for overtime was less than the $27 million the police department will spend in the current fiscal year which is about $11 million over budget.
“If everyone is wondering how in the world they were able to come up with this $11 million for this overage of overtime, it’s through attrition,” Boyd said. “We’re saying it’s okay to have these unfilled positions that we already know won’t get there. I’m just trying to get us to be more fiscally responsible in our budget process.”
Council member Martavius Jones argued that the overtime line item is “padding” that could be reduced.
“We’re padding $4 million for employees that aren’t on the force,” Jones said.
Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings disagreed with Jones on that point.
He also said the overtime is essential especially given a rise in protests in the current fiscal year that included a July Black Lives Matter protest that shut down the Hernando DeSoto Bridge for several hours.
“Overtime is a necessary evil,” Rallings told the council. “We couldn’t maintain the same level of service. I’m not sure we can keep the genie in the bottle. … You are almost setting me up for failure.”
Council member Joe Brown opposed the move.
“We do have a crime problem,” he said. “We haven’t seen anything yet. Things are brewing. Things are on the way.”
Council member Frank Colvett voted against a $5 million cut but voted for a $2.7 million cut before the compromise was reached.
“I guess the variable is how many times are we going to be on the bridge,” he said, referring to the protests that Rallings mentioned several times in the discussion about the need for that level of overtime.
“We are in a new era of protests, special events and unrest,” he said earlier in his presentation to the budget committee.
The city has seen more protests and marches in the last year with some drawing the largest crowds seen at protests since the 1960s.
Organizers of some of those events have complained that the police response to events has been excessive. And some of the organizers have filed suits in federal court over police monitoring of protest leaders as well as the city’s handling of a protest during Graceland’s annual candlelight vigil this past August.
For Boyd, the effort to cut the overtime pay is part of a larger point he has made this budget season about the large share of the budget devoted to public safety.
Boyd says the budget should be more balanced with some money dedicated to the police and fire departments used instead for community centers and programs at those centers across the council districts.