MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Blue Crush - it's a catchy little name if there ever was one. Blue, standing for police. Crush, meaning the cops will crush crime. Sweet.
At one time in Memphis, close to 900 Blue Crush details were held every year. Crime dropped. Last year only 331 Blue Crush operations were held in Memphis. Crime increased.
Ben Adams of the Memphis-Shelby County Crime Commission noticed. "Our understanding," he said, "was we had less boots on the ground. That's why we started this whole effort."
The Police Department is short 216 officers, but something else was wrong. Crime commission members let Memphis City Council folks know what they found. City Council members wanted answers. But as far as the blame game was concerned, some, like Councilwoman Janis Fullilove, said don't knock MPD Director Toney Armstrong. "Why are they messing with you?" she asked Armstrong. "Why are they putting handcuffs on you and not allowing you to do the job we asked you to do?"
Director Armstrong told council members he has to perform a juggling act with money. It's robbing Peter to pay Paul, and when Peter is out of money, Paul gets angry. The council members were told there is no separate budget for Blue Crush. The money comes out of the department's overtime budget, which was cut by $2.3 million last year by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's administration.
Council member Jim Strickland says the blame for most of this must be with the Mayor. "This past spring," Strickland said, "MPD asked the Wharton administration to put back the money for overtime, and they did not."
What police officers now do on Blue Crush is to give up overtime money. They will work extra hours and be given a day or two off later, something called compensatory time. It's good they do that, says Director Armstrong, because he has plenty of other places where he needs to spend that overtime money.
"We have unfunded, mandatory items," he told council members. "From buying new radios to getting officers inoculated, we have no choice but to do these things. These obligations are paid with the overtime funds," he said. "There are other crime fighting initiatives that are funded through overtime. Blue Crush is just one of those initiatives."
Memphis Chief Administrative Officer George Little defended the Mayor, saying that when it comes to the operations of the Police, there's only one man in charge, and that's Toney Armstrong. Mayor Wharton wasn't at the discussion. Council members are expected to deal with the Blue Crush issue again in a couple of weeks.