The Memphis Police Association will conduct a public awareness protest at Poplar & Highland on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. to bring attention to what union president Michael Williams terms gross mismanagement by mayor AC Wharton Jr.'s administration.
The meet-and-greet encounter is a giant public handshake designed to increase the volume on the union's Wake Up, MEMPHIS! campaign.
"We think there has been a campaign going on to actually discredit the police in this city," said Williams. "We think there are a lot of things that aren't being addressed while running us down."
While citizens have a right to know what's going on in the Memphis Police Department, Williams said "all kinds of things" may happen at other high-profile places and "you don't see that all over the news."
"From the looks of it people may think that police aren't disciplined a lot, but that's not true," Williams told The New Tri-State Defender in an interview. "As a paramilitary organization we can be disciplined for almost anything. If you don't complete a report properly, you can get suspension days."
The problem affects citizens in many ways, said Williams, but most importantly in the bottom-line application of tax funding of the city's needs.
"Unless you're a criminal, most citizens like public safety and what we always tell people is to check the facts about what we are saying. The administration is concentrating on and spending too much on mess that doesn't do a thing for the common citizen," said Williams.
"The mayor said he wasn't going to lay off police officers because of public safety," said Williams, "but what he did is to make us lose more than 300 officers by attrition. And because they're constantly talking about taking benefits away from officers we have officers and potential recruits running away from the MPD.
"You're not going to be able to recruit quality individuals in a city with one of the highest crime rates in the nation. It is a direct issue of public safety."
Mayor Wharton was in Nashville as the deadline came for this story and the TSD was not able to reach him for comment. In public statements, however, Wharton has stressed that police – by the nature of their work – should be held to different, indeed higher, standards.
City Hall sources reached Wednesday noted these points:
• The City Council – not the mayor – allocates budgets.
• The union's message campaign has the major flaw of being top heavy.
• The police union should follow the lead of other unions. Specifically, the MPA should work closer with City government and bring forward solutions that are well thought out and doable.
• Heated public discussions are just not Mayor Wharton's way of doing business.
The union's website displays a list of things that Williams ticked off as junk expenditure of city resources.
"They say we don't have any money, but you got riverboats, river docks. They say they want to expand the Fairgrounds, etc., and we feel that it's coming from resources better devoted to public safety," said Williams.
"We have people getting ultra wealthy from our tax dollars, so we want to bring awareness to what is really going on. Look at the projects where your money is spent. Those riverboats are already bankrupt....
"The statement that we want citizens to come out and support is that if we are fighting for dollars, allocate them where they have the most impact – public safety."
How any of this is affecting relations with the office of MPD Director Toney Armstrong is not clear.
While Armstrong was not available for comment, his office did send the TSD a statement making the point that Armstrong is "a member of the union. He meets with them monthly and anytime when it is deemed necessary."