Weekly Update

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It’s no secret that violent crime has plagued our city for decades, and over the past year with most meaningful outlets closed due to the pandemic, almost every city across the country has seen an increase. With a 12.3 percent increase in violent crime year-to-date over the same time period last year, Memphis is no different.

For me personally, working to solve this problem has been one of the most frustrating and challenging obstacles I’ve faced during my time as Mayor because there is no “quick fix”.

It takes all of us—state and local officials, families, neighborhoods, churches, and businesses—working together towards the long-term goal of reducing violent crime.

Coming on board officially this week to help us with that is Chief CJ Davis. For the first time ever, the department will be led by a woman—an African American woman. It’s also the first time since 1978 that someone from outside the department will lead our officers.


It goes without saying that we’re at a critical point in policing and in our city, and I believe Chief Davis has the experience, the compassion, and the vision to improve our department and help us to fully reimagine policing.


Our officers have been forced to deal with more over the past year than most have seen in their entire careers, and we can never thank them enough for that—but the work is not finished.


I am a firm believer that we have one of the best police departments in the country, but we must always strive to do better and to be better. Chief Davis is the one to help us do that. I’m excited to get to work with her, and I know she will be a great asset to the department and an advocate for our community.


Chief Davis is also a firm believer in our recently announced Group Violence Intervention Program (GVIP). This program will bring all the necessary groups together to fight crime using the evidence-based practices of innovative policing and focused deterrence work. It will further be complemented by other non-police agencies who will perform intense violence interruption, intervention, prevention and outreach to the hundreds of individuals we know who are committing most of the crimes and the most at-risk youth.


Going hand-in-hand with GVIP is our overarching public safety plan. The plan is based on best practices in Memphis and other cities from around the country.


My parts of the plan can be summarized in five points: 


  • Rebuilding MPD. Since we’ve taken office, and in partnership with the City Council, we’ve increased funding for the Memphis Police Department and improved the pay (a two percent pay raise and a nine percent bonus are in the FY22 budget), and improved benefits and promotions for our officers to better recruit and retain them.
  • Punishing violent offenders. While there’s no question that we should explore alternatives to prison for non-violent felons, there’s also no question that we should prosecute violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law. We have worked with the state to strengthen penalties for gun crimes and domestic violence, as well as strengthened our partnership with the U.S. Attorney to drastically increase prosecutions of violent gun crimes in the tougher federal system.
  • Positively affecting more young people. The true long-term solution to crime is young people picking the right path instead of the wrong one. Young people need something productive to do when they’re not in school. Prior to the pandemic, we had greatly increased those activities. We had increased by 100 percent the number of youth summer jobs compared to when we took office, and we worked with the private sector to create even more. Youth library programming and parks youth athletics participation had more than doubled, and more youth are using our community centers. And while it is certainly a long-term investment, we funded universal, needs-based Pre-K for the first time in City history.
  • Reducing recidivism. We have expanded programs that work to connect local employers with individuals who have paid their debt to society and are leaving prison. We raised private funds to pay for the expungement fees for hundreds of non-violent felons and have lobbied to have those fees reduced. It is vitally important that ex-felons have the opportunity to become productive members of society, or else, as statistics show, they are more likely to commit crimes again.
  • Increasing economic opportunity. Tall, shiny buildings aren’t the only reason I so often tout our new developments and increased investment. It’s the jobs that they bring with them. At City Hall, we have worked hard to create an environment in our city to enable the private sector to invest more and more, and we’ve worked to overhaul how our community attracts new jobs. Data shows that pre-pandemic 20,000 more Memphians were working at the beginning of 2020 than when I became mayor in 2016.


Our overall public safety plan is Operation: Safe Community, in which the above points are my primary responsibility. To read the full Safe Community plan, go here.


We also need significant contributions from many others to achieve ultimate success: 


  1. Parental Responsibility. Parents and families have the biggest impact on a young person, and I cannot make all adults take the personal responsibility to properly raise a child. As stated above, we have worked to significantly increase and improve city government’s interventions with young people, but government cannot do it alone.
  2. Guns. While there is a deep divide in our nation and community over whether government can or should limit access to certain firearms, the fact is too many young people have easy access to too many weapons. In city government, we have worked to slow the problem (free gun locks, encouraging people to put their guns in safes, increasing prosecutions of illegal use of guns), but state and federal laws are much different (especially with the recent passage of the open carry law in our state), and city government has no authority over gun regulations.
  3. Criminal Sentencing. Too often there is a revolving door in prison for violent criminals. We have worked to remedy that, but there is still more to do. We need truth-in-sentencing for violent crimes, meaning if a violent criminal is sentenced to six years, he or she serves six years and not two. One example of a sentencing law that needs strengthening: under current state law, if someone fires a gun from one car into another on the interstate, and no one is injured, the criminal is presumed by the court under the law to get probation without any jail time.
  4. Educational Achievement. Currently, only about 25% of Memphis 3rd graders in public schools read at 3rd-grade level. About 15%--20% of high school students drop out before graduation, and of those who graduate, less than 20% are college-ready. We are failing our children on the basic and core ability of literacy. And when I say “we,” I truly mean all Memphians. Our community must do better. Universal needs-based Pre-K will help and programs like Arise2Read and Team Read are helping, but so much more must be done.


I wish I could tell you that everything will be fixed in a few weeks, but unfortunately, I cannot. I love this city; I grieve for those victims of violent crime (many of whom I have met) and hurt for those who feel afraid in their own homes.


While the pandemic has further complicated this issue, I do believe in the long-term that we will succeed on this front, but it will take all of us—every Memphian—working together to create the Memphis every citizen deserves.



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