MEMPHIS - More than 400 officers have called in sick in the past week in what appears to be a deliberate action to protest planned cuts to their health care, officials said Monday.
Memphis Police Department spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said 404 officers have called in sick since June 30, an increase from 308 officers who had called in sick through Sunday. The department has about 2,280 officers.
According to The Commercial Appeal, Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said the actions come in an apparent protest to a City Council vote that will reduce health care subsidies for city employees so that the funds can be redirected to the city's troubled pension fund.
Because of the number of officers out, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office is helping patrol the city.
"It appears on the surface of it that we do have a work action," Armstrong said Sunday. He said some officers have called in multiple times.
Mayor A C Wharton said the city was forced to take the budget action, citing a recent state law mandating that cities fully fund their pension plans within five years.
"Bottom line is, we had to do something," Wharton said. "In the past, we might have said, 'It's not a crisis yet. Nobody's missed a pension check.'"
Armstrong said in addition to asking the sheriff to help, overtime has been authorized for officers. Some specialized units, like Organized Crime, also will be called in to help.
"It's my message to my officers that we have a duty to protect the city," Armstrong said. "I would still like to think that the majority of our officers will honor that obligation."
Armstrong said anyone who abuses the department's sick leave policy will be punished.
"We will review these officers," Armstrong said.