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Police work stoppage puts spotlight on response times

By Jody Callahan, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 10--Ida Reddice got home from church Sunday afternoon to a nasty surprise: someone had cleaned out her Whitehaven home, making off with more than $20,000 in televisions, lawn mowers and other yard equipment.

So Reddice called the police. Then she waited, wondering if she should call them back. Finally, more than an hour after she made the call, two police officers showed up. They weren't regular patrolmen, either, but an investigator and fingerprint analyst pressed into duty.

"I called them immediately when I discovered it. I would say about 12:20. They got here about 1:30," said Reddice, a foster mother who added that police usually respond within 30 minutes if she calls. "You don't know what to do. You don't know whether you need to call them again, so we just decided to wait. We knew that they were coming, we just didn't know how long."

Reddice blamed the work stoppage that's been dubbed the "Blue Flu" for the slow response. Police officers are protesting budget cuts that eliminated health care subsidies for most retirees while raising premiums 24 percent for both current and former employees.

As of Wednesday, the number of officers claiming to be too sick to work had dipped to 520, down from a high of 557 on Tuesday. Still, that's 23.4 percent of the department's 2,218 officers who weren't on duty Wednesday.

Despite Reddice's experience, numbers released by the Memphis Police Department indicated that, overall, response times had actually decreased by a few seconds during the work stoppage.

According to numbers provided by the city, response times for all precincts averaged 7 minutes, 24 seconds for June 20-29, the period before the work stoppage began on June 30. From June 30-July 7, the response times were 7 minutes, 20 seconds.

"We have not seen a negative effect as it pertains to response times," police spokesman Karen Rudolph said.

Those citywide response times, however, don't show the variances in individual precincts, some of which could be hit harder by the work stoppage than others.

"Response times have been affected. I would say they've got calls holding. They're backloaded. I guarantee they're holding calls," said a Memphis patrol woman who spoke to The Commercial Appeal only after being granted anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media. "They're giving you what they want to give you."

Other police officers who also spoke to The Commercial Appeal expressed general frustration about the situation. One officer is on leave for a job-related injury, but said he would've joined the stoppage if he'd been on-duty.

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"I probably would have. It's a very hard decision to make for some people, especially younger officers who feel like they'll get in trouble," he said, after being promised anonymity. "I think calling in sick, it's kind of powerful for some employees. It makes guys in uniform patrol feel a little bit more in control with what's going on."

Another officer said she has called in sick, partly from stress and partly as solidarity with her fellow cops. She's worried about her future, she said.

"What am I going to do for health insurance when I'm old and by myself? I have no future now. I'm basically going to have to work until the day I die," she said. "I don't want to have to be working until I'm 80 years old."

Both officers also said they believe that, when the work stoppage is over, there wouldn't be any animosity between officers who took part and those who didn't.

"I already told the probationaries, do not do this. You will lose your job," she said, adding that she understood why some veterans also declined. "The reason they have to do it is they've already used their sick occurrences. They've got child support and alimony to pay. I understand it totally."

Added the male officer: "There'll be random animosity ... Police officers, every one of them have a different attitude of how the job should be handled. There's always those clashes anyways."

That officer also predicted the protest would peter out in a few days.

"Probably by this weekend, it's probably going to play itself out. The city will probably be back in the power position again because it'll be unlikely you'll get that many people to call in sick again," he said.

Reporter Timberly Moore contributed to this article.

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(c)2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)

Visit The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.) at www.commercialappeal.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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