MPD union promotes brash billboard across town
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A new billboard is causing a stir around Memphis.
The billboard states: "Welcome to Memphis: 228 homicides in 2016, down over 500 police officers."
It compares the number of 2016 homicides to the number of Memphis police officers patrolling the street.
The campaign was rolled out by Memphis Police Association because the association said not having enough officers is affecting the Bluff City in a negative way.
"We have a crime problem in our city, and we're still losing police officers," MPA president Mike Williams said.
He said officers are leaving because of the lack of city benefits and the rise in crime.
"They're saying there's nothing here for me, there's no reason for me to stay here," Williams said.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said that's not true and the billboards are hurting, not helping.
"It's hurting the cause. We're trying to get more people into Memphis," Strickland said.
Strickland said he and his team have made big steps to recruit and retain police officers in Memphis, and he said that the city is seeing more MPD applicants.
"A raise on January 1, a raise on July 1, created a new level of advancement, restored, and pre-65 health subsidies," Strickland said.
Although many don't like the billboard, they said the message is important.
"I don't think it's welcoming saying we have 228 homicides come on to Memphis," Brenda Watson said.
Watson's husband was shot and killed last year and believes the message the billboards give is something that is needed.
"It lets everybody know how many people have been murdered in this city," she said.
The City responded Thursday night.
"The message on the billboard undermines the confidence in the hard-working police officers who fight the good fight every day," Chief Communications Officer Ursula Madden said. "It's not helpful in our effort to recruit businesses here."
Strickland said he has a plan to recruit and maintain more officers. His plan includes:
* First pay increase in years - as much as 3.75 percent in July 2016, on top of two percent in January 2016
* Restored pre-65 retiree subsidized health insurance
* Recruitment campaign yielded 2,000 applicants (A typical year yields 500 applicants)
* A class with a goal of at least 100 recruits is planned to begin in March, another later this year
* Hired first class of Police Service Technicians in years and launched the Blue Path program
* Increased tuition benefits for officers and created a Police Officer III rank to better compensate veteran patrol officers
* Accelerated promotions within the department, promoting many more officers (237) than in recent years.
* Hired and trained 24 police recruits who graduated in August. Another class of 31 recruits started in September and is scheduled to graduate in February
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