MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Hiring more police became a central issue at the heart of Mayor Jim Strickland campaign in 2015 and during his first term as mayor.
There’s a designated section on the City of Memphis’ data page on, what Strickland calls his short-term goal, for hiring police officers: 2,300 by Dec. 2020.
The webpage shows a graphic highlighting the growth of officers hired between Jan. 2017 and Aug. 2019. The graphic shows more than 100 officers hired in the last two-and-a-half years.
In totality, during the 44 months that Strickland has been mayor, Memphis Police Department has seen a net increase of three police officers, according to a review by FOX13 Investigates of City of Memphis police data.
In Jan. 2016, when Strickland was sworn in as mayor, MPD had 2,064 officers. As of Aug. 2019, the most recent publicly available data, MPD has 2,067 officers on staff.
“I don’t think that tells the full story,” said Strickland in an interview with FOX13 Investigates on Sept. 16.
Campaigning to hire more police officers.
A key campaign issue turned into a priority for Strickland in his first term: hire more police officers.
When asked if he has lived up to the promises made during that campaign, Strickland said, “we’ve made huge progresses.”
“We’ve stiffened the penalties against violent criminals. We’ve partnered with the U.S. Attorneys, and they’ve increased their prosecution of illegal use of guns by 58%,” said Strickland.
In bullet point three of his 2015 campaign crime plans, Strickland called on recruiting and retaining police officers.
“[P]olice director Toney Armstrong has stated that MPD needs 2,400 officers to be a ‘full service’ agency,” the plan reads. “An effort must be made to recruit and retain new officers so that the staffing of MPD remains stable in the long-term.”
Strickland’s short-term plan right now is to hire 2,300 officers by Dec 2020.
“In November, we’ll be over 2,100 but our goal still will be – our short-term goal will be 2,300 at the end of next year,” said Strickland.
‘We’re climbing back up. We have momentum now.’
Did Memphis Police gain more officers under the Strickland Administration?
The simple answer is yes.
But it’s a more complicated issue that shows where the City was before the Mayor came into office and where it is now.
The Mayor, himself, points to the past two years when talking about police officer hiring.
In July 2017, the police department hit a modern low: 1,910 officers. It’s the lowest number on record, according to public data that dates to 2011.
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As of August 2019, MPD has 2,067 on staff.
It’s a nearly 160-officer increase in 25 months.
“We bottomed out, and we’re climbing back up. We have momentum now,” said Strickland.
But the Mayor has been in office for nearly four years.
When he started in Jan. 2016, MPD had 2,064 officers. Again, as of August, MPD has 2,067 officers on staff.
It’s a net-increase of three officers during Strickland’s 44 months in office.
“We inherited a broken system on recruitment and retention of officers,” said Strickland. “It was plummeting downward. In fact, the system was so broken, you could not apply online to be a police officer. You had to physically go to the police station and handwrite out an application. We scrapped that system.
“We created the Best in Blue. We went out and marketed. We graduated our first class and when we graduated that first class, we dropped down to close to 1,900,” said Strickland. “But in 2014, for example, the system that we inherited, in 2014, zero police officers were hired. So we had to create a system, on the whole, graduate a class, recruit and then once we did that, we had about a 180 officer recruits.”
Under the Strickland Administration, even as the police department gained officers over the past two years, the City of Memphis did not have back-to-back months with increases in officers, according to City of Memphis data.
However, the City of Memphis hasn’t had back-to-back months in police officer increase since May, June and, July of 2011, pre-dating Strickland’s first term.
Voters, police union respond.
Early voting continues in Memphis weeks ahead of the Oct. 2019 election.
FOX13 Investigates spoke with several Memphians on Tuesday after they cast their ballots about the net-increase of police hires during Strickland’s 44 months.
Asked if the Mayor lived up to his promise, Dr. Karen Streeter simply said, “no.”
“I believe he’s very weak on crime,” said Streeter.
Strickland and his re-election campaign posted an ad earlier this month titled, “Fast Forward” where the campaign shows what has happened during Strickland’s tenure.
Under the banner graphic that reads “450 new police officers”, audio is heard saying, “under Jim Strickland, our police force is on the rise.”
Michael Williams, president of Memphis Police Association, said this doesn't consider attrition: the officers that retired, left or quit.
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