It’s called “Blue Flu”—police officers protesting working conditions by calling in sick. On July 7, 522 police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, stayed home because they were sick—of having their benefits cut. Although the Memphis Police Association did not sanction the work slowdown, nearly a quarter of the force in Memphis stayed home on Monday. Michael Williams, president of the Association, summed up what the officers were feeling: “I would characterize it as officers that are stressed out, and they are very concerned about their futures.”
The problems began in June when the Memphis city council voted a one-two punch: Officers would pay higher health insurance premiums and eliminate while losing the 70% subsidy they had enjoyed for years. The future, with additional cuts looming, looks even bleaker. “We’re in a crisis mode,” said Police Director Toney Armstrong. “We’re going to do absolutely everything we have to do to make sure that public safety isn’t compromised.” He promised to investigate officers who have been calling in sick; corrective actions could range from reprimands to termination.
During the “Blue Flu epidemic,” vacations and leave have been canceled. Deputies from Shelby County are helping out in Memphis, and the Highway Patrol is standing by.
Mayor Wharton of Memphis expressed sympathy for the officers’ plight and has been pressuring the city council to find alternative funding to avoid the cuts. But Wharton also expressed concern about the safety of residents of Memphis. “We understand the grievances of the police officers and their desire to be heard,” Wharton said. “What I cannot accept is that the public—many of whom don’t vote or sit in my seat—should be held hostage on this.”
Not all Memphis residents feel like hostages, however. Some have expressed strong support for the police officers’ plight. “Let’s start up on top,” said resident Calvin Harris. “Let’s cut the mayor’s salary. Let’s cut some of his assistant’s salaries, then let’s cut from some of those making these decisions. Then, we see where we need to go from there.”
Meanwhile, police officers in another city are dealing with a financial crisis of their own. Trustees of the police pension fund in Detroit, Michigan, are urging officers to vote in favor of pension and salary cuts. Detroit—struggling with an $18 billion debt—is facing bankruptcy, and drastic cuts seem to be the only way out. Corporations and private foundations have contributed over $800 to a pension fund that will ease some of the cuts. Trustees warn that money will be lost if the bankruptcy plan is voted down.
Harsh as the cuts are, police officers (and firefighters, who are voting for the same plan) can consider themselves lucky. Their losses are limited to a 55 percent decrease in annual cost-of-living raises. Other state workers are facing the same cuts, but they also will see a reduction in pensions, with no private contributions to make up the difference.
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Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of ten books, including Police Talk (Pearson), and she publishes a Police Writer Newsletter. Visit her website at www.YourPoliceWrite.com for free report writing resources. Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview of her book Criminal Justice Report Writing. Dr. Reynolds is the police report writing expert for Law Enforcement Today.