Weekly Update

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Over my nearly six years as mayor, I have written many times about our decades-old crime problem. While the overall crime rate has continued to decrease since 2017, during the pandemic, the violent crime rate has significantly increased—particularly aggravated assaults and murders. This trend is happening in cities large and small across the country, but that fact brings no solace to those forced to deal with the pain violent crime brings with it.


As I have noted before, we recently started a gun violence interruption program—our Group Violence Intervention Program (GVIP). It’s a comprehensive and collaborative initiative aimed directly at interrupting the cycle of violent crime by adding new and significant resources to that work. GVIP has been developed from evidence based practices that have been demonstrated to work in other cities.


At its core, it is a collaboration between innovative policing and focused deterrence work. It’s complemented by other non-police agencies who 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.


In addition, we have continued to do the following: 

  • 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 were in the FY22 budget, as well as, a 15,000-signing bonus for new recruits with federal American Rescue Plan Act funds), and improved benefits and promotions for our officers to better recruit and retain them. [One side note, a majority of the city council refused to allow you, the public, to vote to allow officers to live outside the county and to join the vast majority of cities without residency requirements].
  • 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.
  • 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. Most recently and with City Council’s help, we allocated $9 million of ARPA funds to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis.
  • 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. 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 the Safe Community Plan, in which the above points are my primary responsibility. To read the full Safe Community plan, go here.


As we have stated often, it takes more than the Memphis Police Department and city government to successfully tackle this issue. Other people and entities must also be held accountable.


First, parents—take an active role in your child’s life. Know who their friends are and what they’re doing when they’re not at home. You are the best and most effective way to help make a difference.


Second, Tennessee state law has changed over the years to allow for easy access to guns, while also failing to adequately punish people for the wrongful use of those guns. A couple years ago, I asked then-Director Mike Rallings to compare the number of guns on the street now compared to when he became an officer over 30 years ago; he replied that it was “night and day” and that it was unusual to find a criminal suspect with a gun when he joined the force.


For example, in 2014, the state allowed adults to have guns in their cars without a permit. As a result, more citizens carried guns in their cars, and theft from cars and theft of cars skyrocketed to the point that 1,381 guns have been stolen from cars so far this year. During the same time period last year, that number was 894.


It goes without saying these guns are not being stolen for good purposes. As a result, we are pleading with lawful gun owners to secure their guns.


The following video is a prime demonstration of the challenge police face. Thankfully in this instance, no one was hurt. This type of behavior happens in far too many neighborhoods, and unfortunately, no one being hurt isn’t often the outcome.


As you watch, keep in mind that everything shown in this video is legal under the current Tennessee law, except the five seconds of shooting the gun in the air.


Click here to watch the video.


How can this be policed? If the officers are not onsite during those five seconds, their hands are tied.


As I’ve said over and over, 201 Poplar is too often a revolving door due to weak state laws on violent crime. One example, if a person shoots his or her gun into another vehicle or house and no one is injured, it is an aggravated assault. The law not only fails to require jail time, it requires a judge to presume the person should be on probation without jail.


Third, Juvenile Court is much more of a revolving door than 201 Poplar, even though juvenile violent crime has greatly increased through the years. Very few juveniles are held by the court, and too little supervision and intervention is provided for those cited by MPD for breaking the law.


One example- Last year, a 16-year-old with a gun was shot while trying to car jack a person’s car. In the several months prior to that attempted armed robbery, he had been caught breaking the law four other times.

  • First, at 3am, he led police on a chase in a stolen car that eventually crashed (he was caught by the police and released by the court)
  • Second, he and some friends broke into a store and stole guns (he was caught by the police and released by the court)
  • Third, he and some friends tried to steal cars from a dealership (he was caught by police and released by the court)
  • And fourth, he and a friend stole a car from a gas station (he was caught by police and released by the court) 

All within a matter of months. No punishment. No rehabilitation.


County government is responsible for the juvenile justice system and should provide more resources to Juvenile Court and the new Youth Assessment Center. Without more resources, too many at-risk juveniles will continue engaging in at-risk behaviors.


One positive improvement-- In that video example I shared above, we must change the hearts and minds of those individuals in the car so they do not pick up the gun in the first place.


That’s why we recently allocated $9 million over three years to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis (BGCM). This will allow them to operate in 10 additional Shelby County Schools.

With sufficient funding, BGCM can have a transformative impact on our young people.


Take a look at some of their overall stats: 

  • 100 percent of seniors graduate, and 100 percent of graduates go to college, get a job, or join the military.
  • 76 percent of low-income club members ages 12-18 who attend regularly reported receiving mostly A’s and B’s, compared to 67 percent of their peers nationally.
  • 81 percent of BGCM members show an increase in homework completion.57 percent of alumni said the club saved their life.
  • The percentage of Club girls who express an interest in a STEM career (47 percent) is more than three times greater than that of their same-aged female peers nationally.

As I said at the beginning of this email, crime is something that has plagued Memphis for longer than most folks care to remember. I want you to know we are working every single day on both short and long-term solutions to this decades-old problem. But, it takes all of us—state and local officials, families, neighborhoods, churches, businesses—working together towards the goal of reducing violent crime.


Together, we can make a difference.


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