Weekly Update

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There has been much discussion in recent days concerning immigration and President Trump’s executive order. While we don’t consider it our place to weigh in on every aspect of national politics, this order has prompted questions, particularly as it relates to our processes. So I wanted to share some facts:

1. The term “sanctuary city” is often used, but it fails to grasp the reality of how we operate in Memphis and Shelby County -- which are two distinct governments. The federal government typically defines a sanctuary jurisdiction as one that A) doesn’t participate in a federal database of fingerprinted individuals in jail, and/or B) doesn’t honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain undocumented jail inmates so that they can be taken into ICE custody.

Locally, both of those tasks would be performed at the Shelby County Jail, which is under the operation of the Shelby County Sheriff, an independently elected county official. The City of Memphis does not determine Shelby County Sheriff's Office policies. Therefore, there is little to no meaning in the term “sanctuary city” as it applies to the City of Memphis.

2. As I said Sunday, we do not currently enforce federal immigration laws, and we have no plans to do so. The key word here is “enforce” -- meaning, whether Memphis Police officers would actively participate in “rounding up” undocumented immigrants.

Think of it as a purely practical matter: As of this morning, we have 1,946 commissioned police officers -- down from our peak of 2,452 in November 2011. Our staff is strained just to do what we’re charged to do every day (that’s why I update you so often on what we’re doing to add more officers). If we then asked MPD to perform enforcement -- i.e., actually help administer deportations -- then that means fewer officers Director Rallings can have on your streets fighting violent crime. We don’t want to do anything that diverts our resources from ensuring public safety, and I think you agree.

Also, we need our officers to be welcomed and trusted in every section of our community -- both for the public’s safety, and for our officers. Director Rallings tells me that enforcing federal immigration laws would not help that cause.

Moreover, it can even be explained in simpler terms: MPD does not enforce federal laws such as tax evasion; the federal government does not enforce state and local laws such as traffic ordinances. It’s a simple separation of duties.

3. MPD’s policy does call for it to notify the federal government if an undocumented immigrant is arrested on any drug or criminal charge involving moral turpitude, or a felony. It has been our policy since 2008 and continues to be our policy today. However, ICE typically decides whether to act based on the fingerprinting database connected to the county jail, not the phone call from the city police.

In summary, we do not have much involvement in the activities that would define a “sanctuary city” -- or “sanctuary jurisdiction,” to be technical. We need our officers fighting crime, not seeking immigrants to detain. And we haven’t received any directive from the federal government to change what we’re doing.

As often happens in these highly partisan matters of national politics, the understanding of the processes can get lost. I hope we’ve restored some of that here today. Transparency matters: You deserve to know where we stand and how your government works.

Speaking of officers: I want to remind you that what we’re doing to recruit new officers and restore our police staffing levels is working. You’ll recall that we had more than 2,000 applicants for the police academy last year; in normal years we have around 500.

We’re working to get at least 100 recruits in each of the two classes that begin this year. (The first one begins next month.) And we currently have 35 recruits in a class that will graduate next week.

Engaging the General Assembly: Our administration has prioritized building relationships with the Tennessee General Assembly. I was joined by several members of the administration this week in Nashville to meet with lawmakers both from Shelby County and beyond.

We told them that we wanted stiffer sentences for felons in possession of guns, lower expungement fees, an easier route to driver’s licenses for those repaying fines, and stronger economic development incentives, among many other items. And yes, we did brief legislators on what we’re proposing with de-annexation, which was shared Thursday with the Strategic Footprint Review Task Force. You can study those recommendations in full here.

If you’re curious what we’ll be asking from the legislature and the administration this year, you can read through the highlights of our agenda here.

Welcome to town, Garth: Memphis is Garth City this weekend as Garth Brooks performs show after show after show after show at FedExForum. If you're going, I want you to remember this: Garth Brooks helped St. Jude Children's Research Hospital raise $2 million last month. Also, I had the pleasure of working with him on Habitat for Humanity homes in Memphis in 2015 and 2016. Thank you, Garth!

Answer our Call to Action: Just this week, the Kiwanis Club of Memphis let me know that it is starting a partnership with Kingsbury Elementary to give its members a chance to read with kids. I'm excited about this, and I hope it's an example for others.

Our Call to Action is a three-point path for those who want to get involved but aren’t sure where to start. But the more people it inspires to get involved, however that may be, the better Memphis can be.

Thank you, Kiwanis Club. And thank you to the innumerable Memphians and Memphis groups out there who are already doing great things.

And, as always, if you want to get involved to make Memphis a better place, visit memphistn.gov/calltoaction.

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