Why are police officers leaving Memphis?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) – Memphis Police officers are leaving the city by the hundreds.

Budget cuts mean the departing public safety personnel are not being replaced.

Memphis Police sources say the officer shortage has gotten to the point where some shifts are understaffed, some calls take hours to respond to, and overtime is now the norm.

Police Director Toney Armstrong says soon, citizens will notice a difference.

“Going forward with the declining police force it’s going to be nearly impossible for us to continue to offer services at that level,” says Armstrong.

Armstrong says soon you may not see officers responding to non-emergency, traffic, and burglary calls.

According to the director in 2013, 114 officers left the Memphis Police force.

“They’re seeking opportunities elsewhere,” says Armstrong. “That’s a lot of talent that we’re losing. That’s a lot of senior officers, leadership, that we’re losing.”

Mayor A C Wharton says his administration has been investigating why the officers are leaving.

“The majority had other jobs, career moves they made,” said Mayor Wharton.

Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams says those career moves are to police forces in cities with better benefits. After a pay cut a few years ago, the mayor is now pushing a reduction in paid time off and an overhaul of the pension system.

Williams says you have officers, and fire fighters, now wondering if it’s worth putting their lives on the line. “We’ve got guys out there fighting, these criminals are fighting,” says Williams. “They don’t just go quietly in the night no more.”

But Mayor Wharton says pension reform should not push officers out of Memphis.

“In many instances it’s not as bad as the uncertainty,” the mayor said. “We want to go on and get through this once and for all so the officers and fire fighters and other employees can make good sound decisions.”

But sources tell FOX13 News that officers will be keeping a very close eye on what happens with pension reform and cuts to the department this budget season.

“Who’s going to be the ultimate ones to suffer? The citizens,” says Williams. “Do you want quality officers, or do you want what’s leftover?”