Metro Gang Unit Unveiling Monday

By Bill Dries

A new Metro Gang Unit will be unveiled Monday, July 23, by local, state and federal law enforcement officials.

But the unit will operate differently than the past gang unit that was a consolidation of efforts by the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department.

The new effort, about a year in the making, is different in its inclusion of federal agencies including the U.S. Attorney’s office for Western Tennessee, the FBI, the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office.

The leaders of all four of those agencies as well as Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham and Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong are on the unit’s board of directors.

The old Metro Gang Unit didn’t have a board of directors and operated as a part of the structures of the sheriff’s department and police department.

Former Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin pulled Memphis police out of the unit as he altered the structure of the department to fit the Blue CRUSH strategy of directing police resources to crime hot spots and followed the crime as it moved. Godwin had also argued that such joint units inevitably involved disputes about promotions and pay levels that differed within the units depending on whether a unit member was a police officer or a sheriff’s deputy.

The Sheriff’s Department has continued to operate its own gang unit which works within the city of Memphis as well as the county outside Memphis. The unit works closely with investigators from the District Attorney General’s office.

Soon after he became police director in 2011, Armstrong began talking of a new metro gang unit that would work differently than its predecessor.

The discussions were part of an expansion of the basic anti-crime strategy of Blue CRUSH by the city-county Operation Safe Community coalition to include an emphasis on prevention as well as arrests and a high visibility police presence at crime hot spots.