Police Director Looks to Reorganization

By Bill Dries

Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong has plans to reorganize the department at the start of 2013.

The plans include moving investigators with the various bureaus now at the Criminal Justice Center to a set of nine bureaus spread across police precincts. And Armstrong told the Memphis Rotary Club this week that the precincts will be reconfigured to make them more similar in size with the same resources generally available at each.

“We’re going to try to redraw our map… where we can level the playing field all the way across, allowing every precinct to have the same amount of calls,” he said. “It’s something that we feel like we’ve been kind of dancing around for a lot of years and we’ve just never really pulled the trigger on it.”

The department increased the number of precincts to nine during the tenure of former director Larry Godwin after decades with a set of four covering the city – North, South, East and West.

But there hasn’t been a subsequent realignment of the borders for all of the precincts. As a result, the Old Allen Station in Frayser, which covers the North Precinct, has the largest precinct of the nine in terms of calls for service. Ridgeway Station has the smallest.

Union Station, which covers the West Precinct, becomes Crump Station by the first of the year when the station moves further south to E.H. Crump Boulevard. It is the latest move for a precinct that was originally in a now ancient police building on the other side of Washington Avenue from the Criminal Justice Center.

Operationally, Armstrong said Old Allen Station gets more resources and has been a sort of proving ground for equipment and techniques. It is also cited by precinct commanders from other areas in weekly meetings to review crime statistics by precinct. Armstrong said they will cite the resources devoted to Old Allen as a reason why their statistics may be up in a certain area.

Some of the investigative bureaus of the department once had offices in each of the precincts. They were then centralized by function working out of bureau offices in the Criminal Justice Center.

But Armstrong questioned whether the setting is the best for citizens who want to contact the police or for investigators he wants in the field more. He said a trip Downtown to the hub of law enforcement as well as the criminal courts and the county jail plays into “all of the complexities of coming into 201 Poplar.”

As a result, Armstrong is concerned that citizens who are victims or who have information might not report crimes or help police if it means coming there.

There are currently 12 bureaus in investigative services. Most of the dozen bureaus are divided between crimes against persons and crimes against property with the exception of the felony response unit and crime scene investigations.

Armstrong outlined a plan for nine bureaus spread across the precincts.

“We want citizens to be able to talk to investigators that are specifically assigned to that area where they are impacted by crime,” he said. “201 Poplar is not the easiest place to get in and out of. … I tell my investigators that you won’t evaporate if you leave this building.”

And Armstrong addressed what he called “the pink elephant in the room” on the same day that another Memphis police officer was arrested, the 22nd this year.

“This year has been no different then past years in police history,” Armstrong said with former Memphis Police Director Buddy Chapman and several retired police officers in the room at the University Club. “These are things that happen,” he said, referring to police misconduct and corruption. “It is unacceptable when it happens.”

But Armstrong noted that 24 Memphis police officers were arrested in 2011. He also repeated that he believes part of the problem is the economic downturn. With the recession, Armstrong says police applicants are making it through the academy and onto the force who look at policing as just another job with very little regard for the oath officers take and the obligation that comes with the oath to protect and serve.