MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Why are Memphis police officers voluntarily leaving the department?
What we know is MPD has lost officers each of the last six years. What we didn't know, until now, are some of the biggest secrets why.
FOX13’s Chief Investigative Reporter Jim Spiewak sat down with former MPD officers who speak publicly about their reasons for saying good-bye to fighting crime.
We sat down with former MPD officers Shawn May and Brett Murphy about their reasons for turning in their badge and gun.
It's been widely reported officers have taken pay cuts. Insurance premiums went up at the same time coverage went down. In the minds of officers, pension promises became lies.
“You cannot speak up for yourself. You know there's policy. If any officer went on a camera, you know, terminated fired, gone. They don't have a voice; they just have to take it,” said May.
Both May and Murphy left MPD in 2014 in good standing.
May devoted 16 years of his life to law enforcement, 7 with MPD.
“I love the city. I love the challenges. I really thought I could do some good,” said May about wanting to get into law enforcement.
Talks with other officers convinced Brett Murphy he could make a difference.
“The brotherhood was real strong and I was like 'Man, I want to be a part of that,'” said Murphy and in July of 2008, MPD hired him. Promises were made. That was then.
Today, Murphy is a restaurant manager. May is a train conductor. It's important to note FOX13 sought out the former officers about why they left.
“I knew I would never be rich being the police and we all accept that, but we wanted what was promised to us,” said May.
“We are out there chasing bad guys you know officers getting shot and stuff like that. We need support from the administration and there was none,” said Murphy.
Murphy and May said when they started, there were 35 or 40 officers on their shift.
When they left, they said there were four or five, “and the criminal element knows that so they treat you differently. They know nobody's coming so it's much more dangerous. The officers out there right now, they're in fear,” said May.
We asked how you make a life or death situation with that in the back of your mind.
“That's why a lot of cops get killed. That's why some of them are scared to do it,” said May.
“Officers are scared on the streets. They might not want to admit it because you know it's the manly thing to do or whatever, but I guarantee you they are out there and they are scared because if they make a call to a domestic violence and something goes wrong and they end up getting shot or something like that help may be 15 minutes away,” said Murphy.
We addressed the fact that they are only a couple of thousands of officers of the force and to that May said, “100% if they could talk they would mimic exactly what I said.”
Murphy added, “What am I going to go out and chase a guy with a gun for and me get shot and killed and my family be left with nothing. It wasn't worth it anymore.”
Both May and Murphy worked under the AC Wharton administration, but Mayor Jim Strickland was on the city council at the time.
Over the years, there have been several action plans for change.
“I wouldn't say that it's gotten any better,” Murphy said.
“I'll be honest in the last two years, since I've left, I haven't heard one officer say, man, I'm excited about Memphis police in the future, that hasn't been said,” May said.
May said near the end of his career, he took home $400 a month less than when he started 7 years earlier.
“If I wanted to go out to dinner, I just wouldn't pay the MLGW bill for the month. You have that fear in the back of your head that if I do something, even though I know that I am in the right, it's going to be turned around on me to where I'm going to be basically on the news, the city is not going to support you and you're going to basically be penalized for doing your job correctly,” said Murphy.
We asked what they tell a young person who is considering a career in law-enforcement right now in Memphis today.
“Absolutely, come to Memphis. Use it as a stepping stone because there isn't a future here right now,” May said.
“The thing is they want the best officers but where is the support to keep the best officers?” added Murphy.
These former officers said they didn't feel support from the public or the politicians.
“If you want people to get out there and really bust their tail to protect you and to serve you and make it safer for you, you have to show support to make them want to do it. Officers want to do it, but they don't want to do it just to have everyone turn their backs on them,” Murphy said.
“You get involved with the officers and your community man things are going to improve,” said May.
Mayor Jim Strickland responded to this report via email with the following statement and info:
“The numbers don’t lie: Our current police recruiting class is the largest in seven years and officer departures are below 2014 and 2015 levels. When we took office in 2016, we actively listened to officers and have taken – and will continue to take – many steps to improve compensation.”
It’s important to understand the whole picture. We had 2,452 officers in late 2011 and have about 1,950 today. But to say that the decline is all because of benefit changes would be inaccurate. Actually, the largest reason for our staffing level is that the previous administration did not recruit many officers between 2012 and 2015. In fact, it did not hold a recruiting class in 2014. Our officer staffing situation is the result of three things: 1) lack of recruiting between 2012 and 2015, 2) natural attrition and 3) the benefit changes.
Since we took office, we’ve taken the following actions to better compensate officers:
- Three pay raises in 18 months (two pay raises in 2016, and a proposed raise in this year's budget)
- Four-figure bonuses for officers, funded by the $6.1 million grant we received
- Restored pre-65 retiree subsidized health insurance, the removal of which in 2014 was often cited as a reason for increased officer attrition.
- Created an entirely new rank, Police Officer III, to better compensate veteran officers
- Increased tuition benefits
- Accelerated promotions within the department, promoting many more officers in 2016 (237) than in recent years.
- And last – but hardly least – we rededicated the city to recruitment in order to get our current officers help. We have a three-year plan to increase the complement.
The city’s line-of-duty death provision is 5x the officer’s salary – up to $350K.
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