An update on our crime challenge


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No matter where I am in Memphis, I hear the same concern: our too-high level of violent crime.

I agree. Putting into effect long-term crime reduction strategies is a big reason I ran for mayor. It’s worth reminding you today where we are when it comes to many of these initiatives.

As you know, rebuilding police staffing has been a major area of work. And you probably remember back in August, when the largest class of police recruits in years graduated the academy.

Another class of about 100 recruits started a few weeks after that, and it’s set to graduate in January. After years of increased attrition and lack of recruiting, we look for the 2017 classes to provide the first net gain of officers in seven years.

Other cities across the country are facing the same challenge. Just this week, the mayor of Jackson, Miss., pushed for changes to requirements so he can add more officers. Randall Woodfin, the incoming mayor of Birmingham, has called for more officers there. Candidates for mayor in Atlanta are pledging to expand their force, too. I hope that Memphis can be a model for peer cities in how we’ve innovated to recruit and retain officers, and early signs tell me we’re heading in that direction.

This chart I shared a few months back is a good explainer of why we’re doing it:

Officer Count vs. Violent Crime Chart

Crime reduction isn’t all about policing, of course. The true long-term solution to crime involves reducing poverty and providing productive options and opportunities for young people. That’s why I tell you so often about how we’re making headway on economic development and why we’re doing so much — from community centers to libraries to our youth summer jobs program — to provide opportunities for young people.

We’ve also been successful at seeking stiffer penalties for violent crime — another topic that gets heads nodding in agreement when I’m speaking, no matter where I am in the city.

Make no mistake: Our fight against violent crime is my No. 1 priority, and the No. 1 item on which we’ve made tangible progress in these first 22 months.

Fed Up remains on track: You’ve probably seen the Fed Up advertisements, which tells people of the new, stiffer sentences for gun crimes. But Fed Up isn’t just a bunch of billboards — it is also representative of a strengthened partnership between local law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to seek tougher, federal prosecution for gun crimes.

I met with the new U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, Michael Dunavant, just this week to connect on Fed Up in particular. He reports that his office is already seeing more cases as a result of this strengthened partnership. Just this week, in fact, his office announced a Memphis man pleaded guilty to federal charges of armed carjacking and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

I welcome Mike to the building next door and I look forward to working with his office to ensure public safety.

Welcome, new Memphis Fire members: Last night, I had the honor of attending the graduation ceremony for Memphis Fire Department’s first transfer recruiting class. Director Gina Sweat and her team imagined this on June 7, 2017 — and just 100 days later, the class started. That’s innovation at work, and that’s better service for you.

Hold us accountable: Our monthly performance dashboard is up on the website.

Remembering Bernal Smith: Like many of you, I was shocked Sunday afternoon when I heard of the passing of Tri-State Defender publisher Bernal Smith II. I’ll repeat what I said at the time: Bernal was a tireless advocate for economic and social justice in Memphis, and I greatly respected his voice in our city. Our prayers are with his family during this trying time.

Great work, MAS: I knew when we hired Alexis Pugh as director that we’d look back on it being a turning point for Memphis Animal Services. She would be the first to tell you that there’s much more work to do, but it was nice this week to see a story highlighting progress there — up to a 91 percent save rate after being at around 50 percent just a couple of years ago.

Being transparent: I mentioned a few weeks back that we’re taking your input on a new open data policy, which will allow us to be even more transparent with you on how city government works. Input closes on that at the end of the month, so I encourage you to look at and weigh in here.

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