Memphis Police Department [MPD] director Toney Armstrong told Memphis City Council members Tuesday that he is in the process of "essentially designing a new police department."
MPD's new budget proposes a maximum of 2,282 officers, down from its current maximum allowance complement of 2,470 officers. However, Armstrong said his department employs fewer than 2,282 officers now. The city council cut the MPD budget for new officer recruiting classes last year.
The discussion of a smaller MPD came during council budget hearings Tuesday morning. Council member Myron Lowery said George Little, the city's chief administrative officer, sent an e-mail to Armstrong before the hearings Tuesday morning to formally revise the department's mission statement.
Armstrong said the budget he proposed Tuesday is the financial side of his newly designed department, one with fewer officers than its had in the past. But the overall design for a new MPD has not yet been completed, he said.
"We are in the process of essentially designing a new police department," Armstrong said. "As the police department stands now, we have (a complement of) 2,470 officers. If we scale back to 2,282 as we've proposed in this budget, there will be a level of services we will not be able to perform. We have to make decisions on what to do and what not to do."
The idea for a smaller MPD that offers fewer services comes from numerous studies from different consultants hired by the city. Those studies have said that MPD offers far more services than police departments in peer cities.
"We're at a time of reckoning when we need to decide what level of service we can afford to provide," Little said Tuesday.
Council member Harold Collins told Armstrong that if major changes do come to the MPD, the citizens of Memphis have a right to know what they can and cannot expect from the department.
"They are going to be expecting a level of service...that they were receiving previously," Collins said. "I'm concerned that if there's no plan to release this information or promote it, then the citizens of Memphis will be left out."
The timing of the change remained cloudy Tuesday even after the council's budget committee approved MPD's budget, which only paid for 2,282 officers. Armstrong said he didn't believe a new department could be designed and implemented by the time the new budget takes effect on July 1. But Collins said it would have to because MPD would only be getting enough money for that reduced amount of officers.
"Then that is something we need to decide and this body has to decide whether or not we want to continue with those full services," Armstrong said. "If so, I need 2,400 officers to do it."