MEMPHIS, July 8 (UPI) -- At least 552 Memphis police officers were out sick Tuesday morning in what appeared to be a growing protest over cuts in health insurance, officials said.
Sgt. Karen Rudolph, a spokeswoman for the police department, said almost one in four officers were out. The protest started a week ago with 71 officers calling in sick.
Police officials acknowledged during the weekend that the department had been infected by a Blue Flu, officers calling in sick as a job action over city employee health care cuts. Those include a 24 percent hike in premiums and reduced subsidies for retirees.
Police Director Toney Armstrong announced Monday that everyone out sick will have to produce a doctor's note when they come back to work.
"We are in a crisis mode," Armstrong said at a news conference. "All personnel that we have available to us, we are redeploying. ... We're literally playing chess every day. We're having meetings before every shift to make sure we have adequate coverage."
The department has also taken a number of steps to keep officers on the street. These include canceling leave and transferring officers from special units like organized crime to patrol.
The Shelby County Sheriff's Office has assigned deputies to Memphis.