Memphis police officers have been calling in sick with “blue flu” since June 30. Department spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said 554 officers called in sick on Tuesday alone.
Other sources put the over all number at 675, over a fourth of the 2,280 member department.
The sick calls are to protest a City Council vote reducing health care subsidies for city employees, including police and fire staff, in order to redirect money toward the city’s troubled pension fund.
Officers and firefighters, along with their families, have staged protests at City Hall since the council’s vote on June 17. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton held a press conference, Tuesday, to address the issue.
“I will not put a particular label on this,” explained Wharton saying that the situation facing the department is neither a strike nor a crisis. “But let’s put it this way,” he said, “it is not a desirable situation.”
Wharton concedes that the city should have done something sooner to deal with the pension deficit, and was forced to raise health care premiums and cut benefits as a last resort.
Wharton says he maintains hourly contact with Police Director Toney Armstrong, who is doing some “schedule finagling” to make sure officers are available to respond to calls as they come in. Also, non priority activities like gang task forces are being temporarily eliminated to deal with more pertinent issues.
The mayor affirms that the city’s safety has not been affected and that the city is considering bringing in other agencies to help keep it that way. Namely, the Tennessee National Guard.
Meanwhile, Memphis Police Union President Mike Williams says he knows of retired police officers who have taken their own lives as a result of the pending healthcare cuts.
“We got retirees that have already committed suicide over this. We got retirees that are not going to be able to get healthcare over this,” Williams told local reporters.
“The individual’s wife had major surgery and he didn’t know how he was gonna be able to take care of his wife,” Williams said. “So it stressed him out to the point whereas he did what he did.” Williams refused to reveal the retired officer’s name and his story cannot be corroborated.
Williams also claims that crime is up in Memphis as a result of the week long ‘call ins.’ This contradicts the police departments own statistics that reveal crime is actually down 4 percent year-to-year and 11 percent month-to-month.
The changes affect all city employees, but police and fire unions have been the most vocal. Mayor Wharton has asked for citizens input on ways to decrease spending in other ways.
Police State Daily spoke with a Memphis Officer that preferred to remain anonymous. “What this minority of officers is doing is deplorable,” the Deputy said. “While they have been sitting at home for a week, we’ve been covering their asses. Its not right. You have to role with the punches. This just puts an unreasonable burden on the rest of us because they are not getting their way. If I was in charge I would fire all of them and hire 600 others thankful for the job.”