What We're Doing To Fight Crime

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Almost 100 days ago, I was honored to have been sworn in as your mayor. There have been some trying days and some long nights since -- but I know no one said it would be easy.

And let’s be honest: It has been a particularly trying first three months of my administration as it relates to violent crime. I ran on a platform of making the fight against crime a priority, so I know the situation well.

So while we will come to you later in the week with a long list of things we’ve taken real, tangible action on as we approach Saturday’s 100th day in office, I wanted to take a special opportunity today to share the actions we’re taking to fight violent crime in our community. Because plainly put, our crime level is unacceptable.

And as your mayor, I will not accept it as the norm.

Neither should you.

I’m fortunate to work with an outstanding man and 26-year veteran of the Memphis Police force, Michael Rallings, as we combat crime. Here’s what we’re up to:

More officers are spending more time on the streets. Everyone probably knows by now that we don’t have as many police officers as we all want to have, and that situation isn’t easy to fix overnight. But Interim Director Rallings and I refuse to take that as the only answer. So from the time he took the job on Feb. 1, I authorized him to do whatever he needed to shuffle staffing with the priority being as many officers patrolling our streets as possible.

We’re using Blue C.R.U.S.H. data to determine where best to deploy our officers, and we’re utilizing overtime and every efficiency possible to place more and more of our patrol men and women on the streets. The results are showing. Recently, many people have told me how much they appreciate the higher police visibility.

And while we won’t accept this as a victory, or anything remotely near it, crime in the past 28 days is 7 percent lower than it was in the same 28 days a year ago.

Even more officers will soon be able to focus intensely on violent crime. By summer, as many as 30 more officers will be freed up to focus on violent crime thanks to the Police Service Technician program. The PST program will supply men and women to work traffic accidents and other minor issues while commissioned officers do what we all want them to do -- fight crime. It will be a welcome relief in our police staffing issue.

Long term, we’re committed to increasing the force. Retaining our current officers and recruiting new ones have been a top priority for me since Day One. We’re working to increase officer pay to make it more competitive. We’re also developing a fresh promotions structure that offers officers a greater chance for advancement. And yes, we are going to blitz the market with a campaign to recruit new officers.

At the peak of our staffing, in November 2011, we had 2,452 commissioned officers. As of this morning, we have 2,046. We will work back toward that higher number, and I’m optimistic we can get there -- when I arrived on the City Council in 2008, we had around 2,000 officers, and then had over 2,400 in about four years.

Just this week, we started our 121st police recruit class with 35 recruits. And in September, we’ll start another class.

But we know that driving down crime isn’t only about police officers. Here are a few things worth sharing:

  • We’re working with the City Council to help each district buy more SkyCop cameras through revenue from the red-light camera program. Working closely with council member Philip Spinosa, we’ve identified funds to provide about 70 new cameras, which will be spread throughout all council districts.
  • We’re strengthening our partnership with the Multi-Agency Gang Unit. We were part of an effort in late January that successfully sought an injunction to drive two violent street gangs out of Binghampton.
  • We’re continuing the good work of proven, targeted gun violence reduction strategies such as Gun STAT that focus on repeat offenders in high-crime neighborhoods. Same with Memphis Gun Down, which tackles violent crime in Frayser, South Memphis, Orange Mound and Hickory Hill; and the 901 BLOC Squad, which combats gang violence.
  • MPD continues its many community programs, such as Old Allen Station’s Worship Watch. In that program, officers and members of the clergy gather to form relationships and improve communication. And, the next Clergy Police Academy starts this week at Airways Station. MPD continues its work with neighborhood associations and other community groups, too.
  • We’re continuing to lobby the state legislature to stiffen penalties for crimes, including enhanced sentences for repeat domestic violence offenders.
  • And thanks to your generosity, we raised more than $55,000 to pay for expungements for nonviolent offenders. That allows them to re-enter the workforce and clear other barriers, such as finding housing.

And yes, we’re working hard to find a permanent police director. And that’s whether that person is in Memphis or anywhere else in the country. I’ve enlisted the help of a search firm to hone in on our needs and scour the country for the best possible candidates. I met with that firm as recently as Tuesday.

I’m hoping to appoint someone to that role -- the most important hire I’ll make, in my view -- in the coming months.

As we work on this, I also hope you remember all of the great things happening in our city every day, and how the momentum of Memphis at this special time in our history must not be dampened by the actions of a few. That’s especially important as we know that drastically reducing crime won’t happen overnight.

Please know that this is a snapshot in time, and our plans and actions to fight crime will only grow and evolve in the coming days, weeks and months. Trust me -- you will see more. So will criminals.

Know that we are working day and night to fight crime. Know that it is our top priority. And know that we’re putting every resource of city government behind it.

No topic has consumed more of my first 100 days than this one. And I assure you it’ll be top of mind for my second 100 days, too.


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