JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mixed messages from Jackson’s mayor and police chief underscore a growing debate raging within the ranks of the Jackson Police Department concerning better wages, a debate which city leaders believe led to more than twenty officers calling in sick Tuesday.
The term “blue flu” has also been used by current and former JPD employees to describe the surge in sick claims, which implies those officers stayed home to send a message to their supervisors and the city.
Tuesday’s actions come just days before bumps in pay are slated to begin for recruits and officers with less than ten years experience.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the city and police department were able to address Tuesday’s drop in personnel because they had been tipped off about it.
“We got word [Monday] afternoon that there would be a few officers deciding to demonstrate a ‘blue flu’ out of disappointment that they would not be experiencing a raise on their level," Lumumba said. "We made accommodations within specialized units, so that if someone receives the call, if there’s a call for service, there will be a JPD officer that will respond to that call for service.”
A few hours later, JPD Chief James Davis sent out a statement contradicting the mayor’s words.
“It is blatant speculation that those police officers that are out on personal, sick, family or medical leave today in the Jackson Police Department are out as a result of ‘Blue Flu,’" Davis said in the statement. "The fact that we had several officers out today, either for personal, sick, family or medical leave, is purely coincidental.”
If it was coincidental, though, how did Lumumba and the city know about it a day in advance?
3 On Your Side reached out to Lumumba’s communications director, Makani Themba, for comment on Davis' assertions, but did not receive a response.
Officer pay in JPD has been a major topic of conversation among the rank and file for years, with city councilmembers pointing to morale issues from low salaries and scenarios where officers leave because of better pay in other metro cities.
“The reality is that we could never pay all of our public safety what they deserve based on their sacrifice," Lumumba said.
Lumumba said he’s proud that, with next month’s increase in salary, JPD will be more in line with its bedroom communities.
“The only place that you can go, that pays an experienced officer more would be the highway patrol,” Lumumba said, citing information provided by the city that shows MHP starting salary at $41,000.
By contrast, JPD recruits started out making $26,418, a salary that increased to $31,659 after one year.
Under the old system, that same officer wouldn’t get another bump in pay -- to $37,061 -- until they had been there for ten years.
Earlier this month, the Jackson City Council approved a bump in pay for new recruits and those who’ve been there less than a decade, increasing recruit salaries to $30,000.
That officer then gets three more bumps over the next ten years: $1,000 after one year, $2,000 after three years, and another $2,000 after five years.
But some senior officers believe these increases alienate the rest of the rank-and-file.
JPD Assistant Chief Joseph Wade confirmed to 3 On Your Side Tuesday afternoon that 15 to 20 officers called out sick from Alpha shift.
More officers have since followed suit on the other shifts, according to sources within the department.
Lumumba said he believes a lot of this comes from a place of confusion from these officers who feel slighted by their department.
“I’ve heard several officers say that people are now going to be coming in making more than I am making, which is not true," Lumumba said. "I’m very disappointed in those that have decided instead of talking to the city council, instead of talking to the mayor’s office in order to express what they felt was what they needed, to take this measure.”
The mayor said those officers may not realize how much the city has invested in JPD during his administration, pointing to his team’s efforts to end furloughs of city employees and a two-percent across the board raise, as well as equipment for the department that officers need: body cameras, new vehicles and laptops in those patrol cars.
More recently, the city council voted to provide 100 percent of city employee health care coverage.
“If that isn’t a demonstration of a sincere commitment, I really can’t tell you what else, it’s beyond me," Lumumba said.