Hundreds of Memphis police officers have been calling in sick in a possible protest of pension cuts and changes to the city's healthcare policies, city officials told the Los Angeles Times.
The number of officers who have called in sick since June 30 reached 552 on Tuesday, said Michael Williams, president of the Memphis Police Assn., the city's largest police union.
The Memphis Police Department has a roster of about 2,250 officers. Though the number who have called in sick has varied each day, Williams said most have been patrol officers, meaning the city is short on younger officers who normally respond directly to emergencies.
Williams said the union was not behind the apparent protest, but he added that officers have been dissatisfied with salary cuts the city imposed after a contract was signed in 2011, as well as changes to the city's employee health plan.
"Part of the problem is that if an officer goes out and gets into an active shooter situation, they're telling him that he's not going to be covered, he's not going to have insurance," Williams said.
Calls to spokespersons for Mayor A.C. Wharton and the Police Department were not immediately returned.
Wharton said at a news conference Tuesday that officers will have to provide doctor's notes for each day missed and call in two hours before each shift they plan to miss, according to a report in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Memphis officers are typically required to call in sick just once when they are ill and do not have to contact their supervisors again until they plan to report back to duty, according to the report. At the news conference, Wharton also said officers could be docked pay for missed days of work.
Members of the Shelby County Sheriff's Office have been called in to help patrol the city. Williams said his union was considering making a public appeal to the officers to end the sickout, but he also said it had yet to dramatically affect public safety.
"Right now, they're juggling and the sheriff's department has come in and a lot of these guys are working I think 12-hour shifts, different things like that to try to manage and to keep the city safe," he said.
The Police Department has lost 300 officers through retirement and attrition since 2011, Williams said, and has graduated one academy class since.
He said the decrease in roster size had led to an increase in crime. From 2010 to 2012, the city's homicide rate and aggravated assault rates both rose, according to Uniform Crime Reporting data.