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VOL. 124 | NO. 169 | Friday, August 28, 2009

Carpenter Pledges MPD Changes; Wharton’s Support Grows

By Bill Dries

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NEW DIRECTION: Memphis mayoral contender Charles Carpenter has vowed to scrap the Memphis Police Department’s Blue CRUSH anti-crime strategy if elected. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

For the past two years there has been a steady political drumbeat to increase the number of officers on the Memphis police force. Few have ignored it.

It was something that most of the nine first-term Memphis City Council members followed into office in 2007. And the call for “more boots on the street” also prompted an intense council discussion of whether residency requirements for police should be eased to help reach a force of more than 2,500 officers.

Proper cure for crime?

This week, Memphis mayoral contender Charles Carpenter said there should be a re-examination of how the existing force of about 2,200 officers is deployed.

Carpenter pledged that if elected he would not only replace Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin, but he also would get rid of Blue CRUSH, the department’s statistics-driven policing approach that focuses police resources on crime hot spots.

“I think Blue CRUSH is reactionary,” Carpenter told The Daily News. “It’s all after the fact. It’s all part of a pound of cure. This community policing strategy is an ounce of prevention.”

Carpenter’s strategy would at least review and probably disband most of the special units within the Memphis Police Department and send those officers to uniform patrol.

“We will increase visibility in patrolling … and thereby reducing the opportunity for crime,” he said. “Assign more of these officers to street patrol. The purpose would be to drop the response time.”

Blue CRUSH is a strategy embraced by Godwin and former Mayor Willie Herenton. Herenton even attended some of the Blue CRUSH press conferences during his 2007 re-election bid, something Herenton normally avoided doing.

“We’ll go out and have a sweep and pick up 50 prostitutes or 50 low-level drug dealers,” Carpenter said of the press conferences. “That’s a publicity stunt. We’re not impacting crime doing that. We have to be more effective and truthful and cooperative with the community so that they will understand exactly what the strategy is.”

But Godwin claims the targeted efforts have reduced the city’s overall crime rate as well as in most categories. Carpenter said crime fighting is also about battling perceptions.

“The perception in the community is that crime is rampant. It is not going down,” he said. “That perception is reality. If our community feels that crime is not going down just because we can show a statistic that it may have gone down a percentage point, that is not making us feel any safer. That does not increase the trust that we have in the police division.”

Gaining allies

Meanwhile, the Wharton campaign began rolling out endorsements this week.

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. already had reeled in City Council member Jim Strickland as a campaign co-chairman. Strickland had considered running for mayor.

ENDORSEMENT GRANTED: City Court Clerk Thomas Long, left, with Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr., considered running for Memphis mayor in the Oct. 15 special election. Instead, he decided to endorse Wharton this week and work in Wharton’s campaign. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

City Court Clerk Thomas Long had gone a step further. He pulled a qualifying petition.

But Long is now backing Wharton and planning a run for county clerk in the 2010 elections.

“I’ve decided that this is a very important race,” Long said. “Most elected officials when they’re not running they usually take the safe road. They don’t endorse anyone. They simply sneak in the back door after the election is over and get on the stage with the winner and raise his hand. It was about passion and patience.”

Long cited the short time span of the campaign, which is now less than 50 days away. Early voting is even sooner.

“Quite honestly we just cannot effectively generate the resources that we need in order to do that,” Long said of his consideration of the race.

Wharton said Long will help his campaign plot strategy in the weeks to come.

“When it comes to analyzing, you’re talking to one of the sharpest, most experienced minds we have here in the city of Memphis,” Wharton said. “He can tell you about turnout – the kind of information that you need to run a sophisticated campaign.”

The latest citizen to consider joining the race is Dewey Clark, who picked up a qualifying petition Tuesday for the mayor’s race.

Clark was an aide to former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell. He testified for the government at Campbell’s 2006 corruption trial that he made a $9,000 cash payment to Herenton. Campbell was convicted of corruption charges. Herenton has not been charged with any wrongdoing in that or any other case.

Clark was among the candidates in the 2006 Democratic 9th Congressional District primary won by Steve Cohen.

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