Weekly Update

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Earlier this week, one of our local papers sent over questions regarding our challenge with crime. As our decades old battle with this subject is a very complex and multilayered issue, squeezing my answers into one news story was difficult. To paint the full picture of my responses, I have the questions and my answers listed below.

To give you fair warning—this is not a short Update. It is long because of our “kitchen sink” efforts, as in we have “thrown everything and the kitchen sink” at this challenge.  We have done everything within the power of city government over the last eight years.

Question: The major violent and property crime rate (including murders/non-negligent homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts and motor vehicle thefts) are on pace to be the worst since 1996 – the previous record-high per FBI data. How concerned should Memphians be that the record may be broken, and that trend continue into next year?

    1. How is MPD preparing for next year, in hopes that there can be a decrease in this crime rate for the first time since 2019?
    2. Is there anything specific that makes Memphis’ crime problem unique?

Our decades-long challenge with crime has grown overall since the COVID pandemic of 2020, and all Memphians are needed to overcome it.  Like most Memphians, I am angry and concerned. City government is doing everything in our power with urgency every day to combat it.  We have zero tolerance for violent crime, are focused on car thefts, and work to lock up as many criminals as possible and divert as many young people away from criminal activity as possible.

First, our community does have a united plan.  See here.

The City’s role in this comprehensive plan to reduce crime includes:

  • working to improve early childhood literacy
  • providing more and improved programming for children and teens
  • recruiting good paying jobs
  • offering second chances for those Memphians who have struggled in life
  • connecting more people to the incredible opportunities available, like free job training and high-paying jobs
  • continuing to grow our police department
  • continuing to seek tougher state laws on gun regulations and sentences for violent criminals

The following are more specifics on the City’s role:

Rebuilding MPD. In the years before 2006, MPD had 1,700 to 1,900 officers. Statistically, 2006 turned out to be our worst crime year in many years (and still is). Shortly thereafter, it was decided to grow the department.  Recruiting was prioritized, and the post-high school educational requirement was eliminated.  In 2011, the department peaked at about 2,450 officers, and it almost immediately thereafter started decreasing each year for several years.  

By the time I took office in 2016, the number of officers was in a free fall, and there was no plan to retain or recruit officers.  Our office immediately put together an aggressive recruiting and retention effort.  We brought back the position of Patrol Service Technician (PST) and improved the promotional process. Since we’ve taken office, and in partnership with the City Council, we’ve increased funding for the Memphis Police Department by over 20 percent, improved the pay (30.75 percent-32.75 percent), and improved benefits for our officers.

Importantly, we now have the highest paid officers in the region for the first time in many years.

Prior to the pandemic, we had increased the force from 1,900 officers to almost 2,100, but during the two years of the pandemic and some loud anti-police sentiment, like every big city, our numbers dropped, again to almost 1,900. As of today, we have 1,957 officers, 61 recruits in the academy, 49 PSTs, and we are aggressively recruiting more to rebuild the force once again.

Since taking office in 2016, we have been laser-focused on addressing recruiting and retention for public safety. Below is a recap.


  • Conducted roadshow with Mayor and HR Chief to solicit feedback on recruiting and retention solutions
  • Launched Best-in-Blue marketing campaign for police recruit
  • Transitioned MPD application from paper to online
  • Created the Private Exchange program to offer Pre-65 Health Insurance Options
  • Reorganized the Healthcare plan to offer Health Plan Tiers to accommodate Spousal Carve out
  • Established Wellness incentives
  • Revamped OJI and HHL Program policies
  • Committed to two-year promotional cycle
  • Update PST program design – Created Blue Path pathway program
  • Created Single-role paramedic and Fire Lateral recruiting


  • Created PIII rank for Police
  • Employee Referral Program – Police Recruit - $5,000
  • Launched MPD Retention Bonus Program - $6,400 - $7,000 for four-year agreement – 89% retention rate
  • Revamped MPD Lateral and Re-entry Programs
  • Created Public Safety recruiting team in HR to support MPD recruiting
  • Identified precinct recruiters to assist with and promote recruiting efforts
  • Implemented three-day hiring process for out-of-town candidates
  • Revision of the minimum qualification requirements to include Criminal Justice degrees from National Accredited Schools, accept military reserve time, and candidates that have responsible work experience
  • Enhance Tuition Reimbursement Program from $2,000 to $3,000
  • Advanced time to fill for MPD recruiting from nine months to four months
  • Pay for academy uniforms and shoes
  • $600 Student Loan Contribution Program

2018 - 2019

  • Access to two free onsite Employee Health Clinics that provide free medications and flu shots
  • Negotiated discounts for local colleges
  • IACP Management Training
  • Expanded MPD recruiting into Military, College, and National
  • Hired dedicated Public Safety Marketer


  • Provided extensive support to MPD and MFD during Pandemic (e.g., Working Well Housing Program, Hazard Duty Pay, Onsite Student Hubs)
  • 1st Tier One Agency in the Country to offer a confidential Wellness App
  • Integrated Psychological First Aid into In-Service Training
  • Joined TN Public Safety Network- Statewide Peer Support Organization
  • Launched a Suicide Prevention Campaign
  • MPD was awarded $100,000 COPS grant to reduce officer mental health stigma
  • Launched Yoga for first responders and mindfulness
  • Partnered with Operation Hope to provide credit and money management to all ranks during in-service training, which will also provide 1:1 financial coaching to officer
  • Launched a zero-based Workforce Assessment to clearly determine what the ongoing MPD complement needs are for the future


  • Hired new Chief of Police
  • MPD Recruit - Reset minimum qualifications to POST requirements for improved hiring
  • Residency requirement removed for police and fire
  • Changed Physical Assessment to Physical Awareness Assessment for entry recruits
  • Added more incentives for police: $5,000 referral bonus, $15,000 sign-on bonus, $10,000 relocation assistance
  • Added more incentives for fire: $2,500 referral bonus, $2,500 sign-on bonus, $5,000 relocation assistance
  • Implemented sales tax – pre-65 group health insurance and 7.5-year employees in 1978 pension plan
  • One-time nine percent bonus implemented
  • A New Era in Public Service Marketing Campaign
  • For IAFF – six percent salary increase over two years
  • Fire Cadet Program


  • Implemented five-year retention opportunity in 2022 – 2027 – 85 percent take rate
  • Enhanced supervision of Patrol Staff by adding 125 Field Supervisor positions to compliment (2nd Lieutenants)
  • For MPA – 10 percent salary increase over two years
  • Leadership Academy training for MPD – Partnership with University of TN
  • Increased Police Recruit pay to PIIP pay
  • Hired 280 Police Officers – highest number ever in one year
  • Future Recruit Program
  • MPD ended a three-year streak of consecutive record breaking homicide totals
  • Re-instituted the MPD Traffic Enforcement Unit (STEU) increased traffic enforcement on interstates & surface streets
  • Added 10 Motorcycle Units for heightened traffic enforcement
  • Created the MPD Gun Crimes Unit, Auto Theft Task Force & Fugitive Unit
  • Added 30 officers to the EDU compliment
  • Re-hired 25 Retired MPD Officers to augment staffing  
  • Implemented daily real time crime suppression strategy through new PowerBI crime data driven platform
  • 6 percent Aggravated Assault Reductions


  • 14 percent pay raise
  • 3rd Quarter 2023 seeing first crime reductions in several months at four precincts due to MPD’s effective crime strategy plan

Since January 1, 2016, we have hired 1,039 new officers.

Without these extraordinary actions done in partnership with MPD and our Human Resources leadership, the Memphis City Council, and the Memphis Police Association, we could be in a much worse position like other cities, such as New Orleans which has the fewest officers since 1947 or Minneapolis which has “dipped to the lowest level in at least four decades.”   

With these actions, our city is primed to again rebuild the department, similar to the 2006 and 2016 efforts. Our history shows that crime is reduced as we increase officers above 2,000 officers.    

We also committed to administering promotions every two years since 2016, which is the national best practice and a large increase from the previous eight years. Since our administration has been in office, we have facilitated at least three testing processes for every eligible rank and 1,243 promotions.

While this does not pertain to rebuilding MPD, we initiated Connect Memphis in 2022, and it will be an incredible useful tool in reducing crime. Connect Memphis was introduced as a new public safety program enabling Memphians to safely take a more active role in keeping their community safe. The first level of the program allows citizens to register their security cameras with Connect Memphis so they can work with MPD to fight crime. The second level will enable businesses and residents to take community security a step further and give MPD direct access to their camera feed in case of a nearby emergency.  Over 500 cameras are integrated cameras and over 3,600 cameras are registered.  Atlanta has seen great success with their program, which began before ours, and they have over 30,000 cameras registered or integrated.

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.

The Revolving Door in our judicial system is our number one challenge on the law enforcement side of efforts to reduce crime. The low bonds, the long delays in trials, and the weak sentences result too often in little-to-no consequences for criminals. And it is clear to those working with young people in gangs or close to gangs that the lack of punishment is encouraging youth to continue with criminal activity and spur efforts to change their lives.

In 2011, we experienced the lowest crime statistics in recent memory.  We were, however, still the fifth worst in the country. This is, in part, the result of our weak judicial system.

Here are some examples. 

First, a state study from 2022 found that the average time served for those convicted of attempted first-degree murder involving serious bodily injury was only 5.7 years. Fortunately, the state legislature passed the Truth in Sentencing law in 2022 that required most persons convicted of violent crimes to serve their full sentences, so this number for this crime will increase, but it shows all of us how weak the system is.

Second, in 2022, there were 17,529 distinct arrestees by MPD, and 51% of them (8,885) had offended in the past.  In 2023, as of a month or two ago, there had been 6,809 distinct arrestees, and 54% of them (3,645) offended in the past.

Third, according to the Shelby County Criminal Court, in 2022, there were 280 guilty verdicts involving only aggravated assault. (There were likely many other cases involving aggravated assault, but those defendants were also charged with other crimes).

Of those 280 cases, 25 percent of them were granted judicial diversion, meaning no prison time. Another 37 percent were sentenced from one to three years in prison. These criminals serving three years or less include many violent people who have shot a gun at other people.

Below are just a few of the actions of the defendants who served no prison time due to weak state laws.

  • Defendant shot his roommate with a handgun
  • Defendant attempted to run over two MPD officers with his vehicle
  • Drive-by shooting
  • Defendant forcefully sexually assaulted victim
  • Defendant fired shots at one victim and hit another victim in the leg with handgun
  • Defendant shot handgun at victim and her child
  • Defendant strangled and attempted to throw victim off balcony
  • Defendant stabbed victim with scissors at work
  • Defendant attempted to run over children with his car
  • Defendant shot victim in the stomach
  • Defendant fired shots at victim's vehicle

Fourth, in the 18 months between March 1, 2022, and August 31, 2023, MPD arrested almost 2,366 people for car theft and theft from cars.  While the system is not transparent and complete data is nearly impossible to calculate, veteran prosecutors and many real examples indicate that few—if any—of these criminals are punished or rehabilitated. 

Fifth, as a case study on shoplifting, we analyzed the data from a local grocer from January 1, 2022, to May 31, 2023. During that time, the grocer had 102 thefts, and MPD arrested people in 36 of those incidents. Of the 36 people, they had a combined 382 prior and subsequent charges, mostly similar thefts. Ten of the cases were settled and dismissed, and of the 12 sentenced, most spent on average 6.5 days in jail.

The message needs to be clear in Memphis:  

  • If you are charged with firing a gun at another person, you will be punished and spend many years in prison.
  • If you are arrested for theft of or from a motor vehicle, there will be significant consequences.

Stiffer sentences are being touted as a deterrent across the country.  For instance, recently, a person was sentenced after conviction for the January 6th U.S. Capital attack. His sentence was 22 years. The federal prosecutor argued for a long sentence so it could “act as a deterrent to others seeking to impose their political views by force.”  He said, “We need to be sure that the consequences are abundantly clear to anyone who might be unhappy with the 2024, 2028, 2032 or any future election for as long as this case is remembered.”  With regard to the 18-year sentence for another January 6 criminal, a national security analyst for CNN said such a sentence would have a “chilling effect on these groups” and make it “more difficult for them to recruit.” 

In addition, “[p]ropelled by a nationwide surge in hate crimes, lawmakers in several states are working to deter potential offenders with harsher punishments.”  As one lawmaker explained, “We hope they’ll be a form of deterrent and an example to others who are thinking of going down that road to engage in this kind of offense. We need to be on record as indicating that we will have zero tolerance for this.”

I agree.

Some of the above challenges are caused by weak state laws. State law is also a challenge because of its loosening of gun regulations. In 2014, state law was changed to allow people to carry guns in cars without a permit. One downside of that law is that annual gun thefts from cars went from about 400 to 2,000. In 2021, state law was changed to allow people to openly carry handguns without a permit.

Since the federal assault weapons expired in 2004 and these state laws, the number of guns on the streets and in the hands of teens and young adults has skyrocketed. Police officers will tell you how massively things have changed in the last 10-20 years.

In short, while state law has allowed guns to proliferate in our community, it inadequately punishes the wrongful use of those guns, although the Truth in Sentencing Law greatly improved the 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 are not in school, and a career after they finish school. Prior to the pandemic, we had greatly increased activities and participation in our community centers, libraries, and parks, and while we have fully resumed the programming, youth participation has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels. We have doubled the number of youth summer jobs compared to when we took office. Youth library programming and parks youth athletics participation had more than doubled, and more youth are using our community centers.

In addition, we have greatly increased our capital spend in the Parks division to address deferred maintenance challenges and to renovate and build new facilities that our citizens deserve.  For the eight years before I was mayor, the City spent $50.9 million on capital projects in the Parks division.  We have almost tripled that to $149.6 million and have improved parks and community centers all over the city.

And while it is certainly a long-term investment, we lead the effort and funded universal, needs-based Pre-K for the first time in City history.

Most recently, and in partnership with MSCS and the Memphis City Council, we allocated $9 million of ARPA funds to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis to expand the 5-year success at Craigmont High School to 10 additional high schools. The clubs meet after school until 8:00 pm. They work on academics, career training, leadership skills, and fun activities. The results are incredible; 100 percent of the members graduate high school and go on to higher education, get a job, or join the military. Every high school and middle school student in Memphis should have a similar opportunity.

We also created a program to connect opportunity youth to all the incredible opportunities our city offers. Opportunity youth are those ages 16-24 who are not in school and are unemployed. We pay them to go through our program, help them choose a career, pay for career training if necessary, and help them get a job.

In July 2021, we started a group violence interruption program, which uses trained intervenors to work with youth in their teens and twenties who are “most likely to shoot or be shot.” The goal is to stop retaliatory shootings and to convince the youth to turn their lives around. We have 100 violence interrupters working the streets, intervenors assigned to hospitals, and personnel reaching out to those identified as particularly challenging or open to change.

Over the last several years, we have lobbied state government for grants to fund high-impact intervention with at-risk youth to meet their needs, such as counseling, education or job training, transportation, and housing.  In 2022, MPD and the Sheriff were awarded about $6 million; in partnership with the Memphis Police Department, Shelby County Sheriff, Juvenile Court, Memphis Shelby County Schools, and Youth Villages, we are providing those intensive services working with youth and their families who have been identified by the court or school system.  This year, city government was awarded almost $40 million to be used over the next four years in high crime zip codes, and we are currently working with the State on a plan for those funds.

Reducing recidivism. We have expanded programs that have successfully connected local employers with individuals who have paid their debt to society and are out of prison. We raised private funds to pay for the expungement fees for hundreds of non-violent felons and to restore driver’s licenses. 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 aggressively 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. Since 2016, in partnership with the Chamber and Shelby County, there are thousands more good paying jobs, the unemployment rate is 35 percent lower, and there are more than 10,000 available jobs in our community right now. And thanks to the state and others, there are free job training programs available in Memphis. See opportunitymemphis.com and jobs4tn.gov to learn more.

While poverty has been and still remains an overwhelming burden on too many of our fellow Memphians, we are seeing some progress.  In 2016, our poverty rate was 26.9 percent. It has been trending down since then.  This week, figures were released for 2022, and it has fallen to 21.4%, the lowest it has been in memory.  Since 2016, there are over 41,000 fewer people living in poverty in Memphis. 

Memphis is an Opportunity City.

Improving Public Transit.  About 15 percent of our citizens do not have regular access to private vehicle transportation, and as a result, they would have difficultly taking advantage of all the incredible opportunities outlined above.  This is one reason we created the Transit Vision plan.  In short, MATA’s annual operating budget was about $30 million, and they need about $60 million to increase the frequency and speed of service. In partnership with the Memphis City Council and the MATA board, we created for the first time ever a dedicated funding source for MATA and increased annual funding from about $19 million when I took office to $34 million in the current budget, a 79 percent increase.  In addition, county government has matched our dedicated funding stream, and we are on the road to achieving Transit Vision by 2030.

Question: Clearance rates for MPD have always been low according to TBI data released in the bureau’s annual Crime in Tennessee report. Those numbers come from MPD’s own reporting. In 2022, however, the department reached the lowest clearance rate for all Group A offenses since TBI began releasing those reports in 2002, at 18% of all Group A offenses cleared that year. What does the department need – or need to change – to increase that clearance rate?

The homicide clearance rate also reached a record low in the 2022 report, hitting 29%. Why is that solve rate so low?

  • Does MPD need to assign more officers to the homicide bureau, and what units or bureaus could those officers come from?
  • MPD’s homicide clearance rate has been below the national, state, and Nashville clearance rates since 2016. It has also been below the homicide rate of similarly-sized cities in that same time span. What is the key difficulty in solving homicides in Memphis?

You have been highly critical of the DA’s office and court system – saying there is a “revolving door” when it comes to people accused of committing crimes – but neither the DA’s office can’t prosecute crimes, and the courts not try cases or deliver sentences, if people are not arrested for crimes being committed. Should the city place more pressure on MPD to solve crime going forward?

Here is a comparison of our 2021 clearance rates with the national averages (from the Marshall Project report dated January 12, 2022):

                                                 Memphis      National Average

Murder                                           66%                50%

Rape                                              27%                30%

Assault                                          25%                47%

Robbery                                        26%                 27%

Burglary                                        11%                14%

Motor Vehicle Theft                      15%                 12%

Theft                                               23%                 15%

There has been a national decrease in clearance rates.  In The Atlantic (July 7, 2022), a nationally recognized data analyst with expertise in evaluating criminal justice data, Jeff Asher, addressed the decrease seen since the 1990’s. He explains the number one reason: “It’s the guns.  The nature of murder in America is changing in ways we don’t really talk about enough.  You’ve got a bunch of cities where firearms make up 80 to 90 percent of murders today. This is the main driver. Guns make murders much harder to solve, and it leads to lower clearance rates everywhere.” “And the reason is that firearm murders are much harder to solve.  They take place from farther away.  You often have fewer witnesses. There’s less physical evidence.”

One of the reasons we need more police officers is to have more investigators.  I believe our clearance rates were higher in 2011, but I have not had time to get that data. 

The reporter’s last question was not posed correctly.  It is not either-or; we want both. We want more officers and investigators and a higher clearance rate, and we want stiffer penalties for the criminals arrested.

Question: Hiring has been a key conversation when it comes to talking about lowering Memphis’ crime rate, and multiple initiatives have been started to try and increase the number of sworn officers. What has worked well so far, and what has not?

    1. I know your term is coming to a close, but what programs do you think should continue into the next administration when it comes to hiring additional officers?
    2. MPD has the largest department, in terms of sworn officers, in Tennessee, and one larger than Atlanta’s, St. Louis’, Louisville’s and New Orleans’. However, Memphis’ crime rate – in 2019 per the last round of FBI data – was higher than all of those departments. Why would more police help lower Memphis’ crime rate?
    3. What makes Memphis’ police force struggle to deter crime compared to other departments?

We need to continue and grow all our efforts outlined in response to the first question.  Memphis officers must continue to be the highest paid in the area.  And with the debt cliff coming in three years, city government will be in a better position to do so.

One challenge for all city services, including police services, is the geographic size of Memphis. We are over 320 square miles large, one of the largest cities in the country excluding consolidated governments which are the size of counties.  This obviously stretches patrols and other police services beyond most our sister cities.

           Square Miles    Population

Atlanta              135                499,000

St. Louis            62                  293,000

New Orleans    169                 384,000

Louisville is consolidated with 324 square miles and 633,000 people. 

To close out—while I embrace being held primarily accountable for reducing crime as Mayor of Memphis, City government is only one piece of this very complex puzzle. The other primary pieces: 

  1. Parents and families– thousands of Memphis teens are not enrolled in school or are enrolled but are excessively absent and not involved in any afterschool programming. 
  2. Schools – less than 25 percent of third graders read at third grade level, less than 24 percent of graduates are college ready, and there are challenges with enforcing truancy laws.   
  3. 201 Poplar– discussed above.  
  4. Juvenile Court–We face real challenges with the number of juvenile offenders and the lack of accountability for those who break the law. Little punishment. Little intervention. 
  5. State Law– State law governs criminal sentencing and imprisonment in the Criminal Courts. State laws have allowed the proliferation of guns on our streets and has been too weak in the punishment of the wrongful use of those guns.  We did, however, improve state law greatly with the Truth in Sentencing Law last year; this law stiffens the sentences for many violent crimes committed after July 1, 2022.  
  6. Federal Law– Federal law governs criminal sentencing and imprisonment in federal courts. Generally, federal sentences are stiffer than state sentences, particularly for gun crimes. The challenge is the U.S. Attorney’s limited resources to prosecute a large number of those cases. For instance, the U.S. Attorney’s office in West Tennessee can prosecute between 200 and 250 gun cases per year, while we presented to the office recently about 1,200 cases that meet federal standards. And both the State and Federal government underfunds mental healthcare. 

To truly address our crime challenge, it will take all of us—state and local officials, families, neighborhoods, churches, businesses—working together towards the long-term goal of reducing violent crime. With each murder, my heart breaks to see our citizens, especially our young people, taken from their families and friends due to senseless violence. I do believe that we will succeed on this front, but it will take all of us to create the Memphis we all deserve. 

Enjoy your weekend!


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