Though crime numbers are down from previous years, Memphis police director Larry Godwin says the department is still understaffed by about 500 officers.
"We have almost 5,000 fewer victims today than we had in 2006, but I think we can do better. We just need more police officers on the street," Godwin says.
Thanks to stimulus funds, the Memphis Police Department (MPD) will have a few more dollars to pay new recruits' salaries. Last week, Congressman Steve Cohen's office announced $6.3 million in Recovery Act money to pay for 37 new Memphis police officers.
In late July, the Department of Justice awarded $1 billion in stimulus funds to the COPS Hiring Recovery Program in an effort to create or preserve 5,000 law enforcement positions across the country. Tennessee will receive $21 million of those funds.
"This is incredibly good news that will not only create good-paying jobs but allow the city to put more cops on the beat to keep our neighborhoods safe," Cohen said in a statement last week.
The funds will cover salaries, training, and some basic equipment costs for 37 officers over a three-year period. After the third year, the MPD will be expected to fund those positions on its own.
The department has attempted to reach recruiting goals for years. But they've had problems finding enough qualified officers to meet full complement. Memphis Police Association president J.D. Sewell says the MPD has a goal of employing 2,600 officers by 2011. The department currently has around 2,150 officers.
"We're still far short, and the maximum you can hire and train each year is 300 according to state standard certification. There's also a problem with high turnover," Sewell says.
In February, the city's human resources department took over hiring duties for the MPD. Director Lorene Essex says they're sorting through about 4,000 applications that have been on file since January 2008. The 37 new officers will be hired along with another yet-to-specified number for the next police training class that begins in October.
Currently, recruits may live up to 20 miles from the county line, but that residency status will expire in December.
The basic class for recruits lasts 21 weeks, and training supervisor Lt. Marty Kula says about 90 recruits attend each training session.
"Between 25 and 50 percent of those recruits may leave the academy before graduation. That happens for many reasons, including resignations, terminations, and separations for those not meeting the standard. If you fail two tests, you're out of the academy," Kula says.
Whether or not the stimulus funds will help the MPD meet recruitment goals remains to be seen, but Sewell says the department could certainly use extra manpower: "Right now, officers have a hard time doing any policing between calls, because most of their day is spent answering one call after another."