"At times, I really wish I didn't have to show up because I literally cannot stand my job. I feel like I have so much more to offer. Sometimes I feel like I have failed as a human being because I share the same title as individuals who lack the skills and knowledge I possess, some of those individuals being lieutenants, majors, etc. I am constantly looking for a new job."
That was one of hundreds of comments on a Memphis Police Department survey that the Flyer obtained through an anonymous source. The survey was intended for inter-department use and not intended to go public.
Memphis Police director Toney Armstrong did not respond to requests for an interview about the survey.
While some officers did have positive things to say about the department and their jobs, the survey reveals that many officers are unhappy with the way the department is being run and, perhaps, even more disappointed with the Memphis City Council and Mayor A C Wharton's office following the latest round of budget cuts.
The majority of officers who took the survey chose "strongly disagree" after reading the statement "Morale is high in my work group."
One of the four essay questions on the survey asked, "What aspects of your current position are most disappointing, disheartening, or problematic?" Although the 714 responses (at press time) to that question varied, many mentioned the lack of opportunity for advancement in their jobs. One anonymous patrol officer said he'd been in the same position for 11 years with no hope for promotion.
Mike Williams, president of the Memphis Police Union, said the reason the department has been unable to promote officers often stems from a little creative accounting by the city administration.
"The money for promotions used to fall under the city's human resources budget. But the city administration put that money into the police department's budget. And then you have the city council saying, well, the police department's budget has increased, so we need to cut the department's budget," Williams said.
The lack of promotions and the continued cuts to the department's budget have led to low morale in the department, according to many responses on the survey. For fiscal year 2014, Armstrong has been asked to cut $5.9 million from the budget, and he has warned the council that he may have to close three precincts.
"The mayor and many members of the city council fail to support this police director and the police officers in general. The problem is not the department. It's the council and the mayor," reads one survey response.
Many officers also complained about poor equipment and a lack of enough working police cars. Some said they're driving cars with broken air conditioners, windows that don't roll down, and some cars are "barely able to reach speeds of 60 mph."
"We drive our cars 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are only supposed to get up to 80,000 miles on those cars. But because of budget cuts, a lot of these cars have 100,000 miles or more on them," Williams said.
Many officers complained on the survey about their relationship with supervisors who talk down to them at roll call. Others raised issue with a new emphasis on a statistics program that encourages officers to write more tickets and make more petty arrests, leaving less time for community policing and working on felony arrests, which tend to take longer.
"They've started tracking officer's stats, from alarm citations to how many calls to report to arrest tickets," one anonymous patrol officer told the Flyer. "A felony arrest can take hours, and they're more difficult to come by. So if an officer has six felony arrests in a month, then he's going to be in the red zone, because he hasn't written enough alarm citations or traffic violations. And then he is counseled by his lieutenant."
The officer said the program deters officers "who love to sniff out big crimes and be a police officer." Williams agreed, saying it can also cause less mature officers to violate citizens' civil rights, because they're just looking to make an arrest and boost their productivity points.
"Instead of me driving around and patrolling zones where there are actually burglaries, now I have to go to high-traffic zones to find tickets to write," the anonymous officer said. "My job isn't to write tickets all day. It's part of it, I understand. But they're leaving no autonomy for us to be police officers."