MPD Director Toney Armstrong says morale is down - - Jackson, MS

MPD director: Morale is down but citizens won't suffer

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MPD Director Toney Armstrong (Source: WMC Action News 5) MPD Director Toney Armstrong (Source: WMC Action News 5)

(WMC) - Morale is down in the police department, according to Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong, who spoke at a news conference on Friday morning. During the news conference, he discussed a wide range of topics.

Budget, pension, health care cuts

Chief among those topics was Armstrong's reaction to the budget decisions made at Memphis City Hall Tuesday night. It directly affect the pay checks and health care coverage for city employees, including police officers.

"Certainly this is something we didn't expect," Armstrong said. "It affects all of us in a negative way, but at the end of the day, my message is that we took an oath. We took an oath that we are responsible for public safety and regardless of what happens on this end there won't be a citizen that should suffer for that."

Armstrong says those decisions most definitely affect morale as well as MPD's ability to recruit and retain officers. The trend, he says, is that officers are leaving the department in large numbers. And he expects that will continue as a result.

In fact, he says Friday is the last day at MPD for one of the two homicide lieutenants, Mark Miller, a longtime seasoned veteran of the homicide bureau, who is leaving to take another opportunity elsewhere.

"I think our officers are looking at any opportunity that they get, whether it's out of town or whether it's at another local municipality," he said. "I think they're looking at any opportunity they get if it's attractive for them and OK with their family and meets their needs."

Despite morale being down and officers leaving, Armstrong says those on the force have a duty to serve and protect the public.

"Our officers are still doing their jobs. They're still being proactive," he said.

In the wake of a Facebook post that alarmed the mayor's office, Armstrong says he spoke with Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams and asked him to ask his members and others he represents to tone down some of the emotion on social media.

Williams says this is the first time he's heard the director acknowledge morale issues in the department. He says members have a good reason to be disgruntled.

"What motivates me to go into an active shooter situation knowing that if I get shot I'm not going to be taken care of?" said Williams. "If I'm killed, you don't want to treat my family right."

Williams says officers realize they are public servants. Armstrong says they take that oath seriously regardless.

"So, it has had an affect on morale. We're having to really, really reach deep to manage through this crisis," said Armstrong. "At the end of the day we're going to continue to do our job. We're going to continue to be professional and we're going to allow the process to take place."

Outside recruiters

Ninety new recruits will soon start a police academy class. Even so, Armstrong says MPD lost 165 of its officers since last July. He expects that number to rise as a result of the budget decisions and other departments coming to Memphis to recruit.

Armstrong is worried about his police officers leaving Memphis after recent cuts to pending pensions and health care.

"My biggest concern right now is just having enough officers to do the things we need to do," Armstrong said. "If these guys can find better jobs elsewhere, they're going to take them."

Williams says other departments from across the country have taken notice.

One month ago, Dallas Police Department came to recruit in Memphis. Nashville and Louisville are recruiting here, too. Aurora, Colorado will be here next month, according to Armstrong.

Some police officers already left MPD for Shelby County Sheriff's Office.

"This is one of the most violent cities in the nation per capita," explained Williams. "Any department that's going to get them already get a trained, seasoned, veteran officer."

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