High-profile homicides combined with a series of crime rankings that labeled Memphis as one of the nation's most violent cities empowered former Mayor Willie Herenton to pour more officers onto the streets and fueled a sustained surge in spending that, years later, creates major financial challenges at City Hall, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Decade after decade, the cost of policing is increasingly consuming Memphis' massive annual budget. An examination of budgets since 1972 — a term spanning four mayors and eleven police directors — reveals nearly uninterrupted growth in police spending to finance a war on a persistent crime rate often double, and at times quadruple, the national average.
“You can't attract economic growth and development if you have a crime-ridden city,” Herenton said recently, reflecting on his costly crusade to strengthen an “inadequate” police force. Herenton fell well short of his ambitious 1998 goal to hire 800 police officers in a four-year hiring blitz, setting a pace for a legion of 2,600 by 2011. While the effectiveness of that surge can be debated by criminologists, the crime rate remains among the nation's highest and its contribution to the city's fragile financial condition is unmistakable. The single largest expense of city government, more than $217 million this year, funds police officer salaries and benefits, devouring 40 percent of the city budget.