MEMPHIS - The state is offering to dedicate Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers to help Memphis deal with a rash of sick calls from police officers upset about cuts to their health care benefits, Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday.
Memphis police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said the number of officers who are currently out sick has increased to 554. That represents about a quarter of the total force, which stands at about 2,200 officers.
Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong has said the sick calls are part of officers' protests of a City Council vote that reduces health care subsidies for city employees, including police and fire staff, in order to redirect money toward the city's troubled pension fund. Officers and firefighters, along with their families, have staged protests at City Hall since the council's vote in late June.
Haslam told The Associated Press after a grant announcement in Monteagle that Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons has been in contact with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. about the situation. It was not immediately known if the troopers will actually be called in to help.
"We have plans to dedicate a certain number of officers there from the Highway Patrol," Haslam said. "Obviously we can't do that forever, but we do want to step in and help."
Armstrong has said that officers who abuse the department's sick leave policy will be disciplined. Deputies with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office already are helping Memphis police conduct patrols.
City employees have been notified that anyone calling in will have to speak to their supervisor every day they are out and state what duties their illness prevents them from performing, Wharton said Tuesday. After three days of illness, they must have a doctor's note saying why they can't perform their duties, Wharton said.
The mayor reassured the public that safety has not been compromised due to what is being called the "Blue Flu."
"We intend to do whatever is necessary to keep it that way," Wharton said.