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VOL. 131 | NO. 157 | Monday, August 8, 2016

Rallings: 'The World Is In Turmoil'

By Bill Dries

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MICHAEL RALLINGS

Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings will get a pay boost from $150,000 to $219,000 a year as he becomes the permanent head of the Memphis Police Department.

The appointment of Rallings by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland goes to the Memphis City Council for approval Tuesday, Aug. 9, for what is expected to be a unanimous vote.

Council members earlier this summer approved a resolution urging Strickland to make Rallings the permanent choice for the job. Council member Patrice Robinson was the only council member who didn’t vote yes. She recused herself from the vote because she served on one of the citizens’ panels that reviewed the six finalists and made recommendations to Strickland.

Rallings has been interim director since February when Police Director Toney Armstrong left to become head of security for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

But Rallings said Monday, his six months on the job have been anything but an interim caretaker job.

“The interim is just supposed to kind of keep the ship afloat, not repaint the ship,” he said. “We not only kept the ship afloat, we repainted it, put some new folks on the ship and kind of redecorated it and put a new engine in it. … The world has changed over the last few months for law enforcement. We are going to respond to the change.”

Strickland took office as Memphis Mayor in January and as Armstrong exited, Rallings picked up the reorganization of the department to put more officers on the streets and fewer in the offices.

That included a reorganization of the Organized Crime Unit and the Multi-Agency Gang Unit.

The idea behind the changes was to have a more visible police department that has struggled with a force of 2,000 officers to respond to a spike in violent crime that began in January.

“The world is in turmoil,” is how Rallings began his formal remarks Monday at City Hall.

“Our nation is filled with unrest and our city has lost 133 of its sons and daughters to senseless violence,” he said, referring to the number of homicides in the city so far this year.

“You cannot stand idly by and watch your loved one post threats, pose with pistols and rifles and prop money and dope on Facebook,” Rallings added as he did what he has done since taking the job in February – calling on citizens to take an active part in crime prevention. “You cannot know that your child has a stash of guns and dope and money in your house and are wreaking havoc in your neighborhood and think that is okay. It is not okay. It is not acceptable.”

Rallings tenure as interim director included the June death of Officer Verdell Smith, who died in the line of duty at the end of violent Downtown rampage as police were clearing Beale Street in advance of a car chase. The chase ended with the suspect allegedly running down Smith after shooting and wounding three people earlier in the evening.

About a month later, Memphis was no exception to the national reaction to a new set of police shootings of suspects in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, punctuated by a sniper attack on police officers in Dallas that killed five police officers there.

One in a series of Black Lives Matter protests locally in July grew by the time it reached what was to be its end point – the plaza outside FedExForum.

There the march of several hundred became an impromptu march to the Hernando DeSoto Bridge that grew to several thousand people and closed the bridge in both directions for four-and-a-half hours.

Rallings had been shouted down by protesters outside FedExForum just before the march to the bridge began. He went to the bridge to talk with protesters. Some of the leaders walked off the bridge arm in arm with Rallings after sometimes tense negotiations.

A group of 100 or so protesters remained on the bridge and Rallings wasn’t able to talk them off the bridge. Instead police in riot gear carefully probed them and pushed them further back until they were off the bridge and on a ramp.

Rallings and other police brass stood behind the officers in riot gear specifically directing them to move forward and then wait for protesters to give some ground before advancing again.

Once on the ramp, the remaining protesters slowly disbanded and the peaceful protest ended with no arrests.

Strickland said Monday that Rallings handling of the bridge protest by itself wasn’t the reason he selected Rallings for the appointment.

“I’ve gotten the best possible person for the job,” he said. “It was not based just on one incident. … It was the entire package.”

Leaders of the protest complained that promises of serious discussions about the relationship between police and black citizens were ignored the next day at a turbulent public meeting that included Rallings as well as Strickland at Greater Imani Christian Church in Raleigh.

The day after that session, six protesters were handcuffed and written citations for blocking traffic on Elvis Presley Boulevard by the gates of Graceland mansion.

Ralling said Monday that he intends to change the way the police department operates.

“Memphis, I have heard your cry. We will reform MPD,” he said. “We will be more responsive, more open and we welcome the opportunity to improve. And yes, black lives do matter and blue lives matter – all lives matter.”

Two police recruit classes are scheduled and funded in the city budget for 2016. But it will take several years to get a net gain of 400 police officers to put the police force at Strickland’s goal of 2,400 police officers.

Memphis Police Association director Mike Williams applauded Strickland’s choice of Rallings. Williams served on one of the citizens panels that interviewed him and the five other finalists.

“I would hope the mayor is not just trying to ride the popularity of Director Rallings at this time,” Williams said, urging the city to reverse recent cuts in police benefits that he believes have been a major role in an exodus from the police department of several hundred officers over just a few years.

“There has to be some changes made,” Williams said.

“Alone in the month of April we lost the 24 that we are going to get,” he said of the number of officers leaving or retiring versus the number of new recruits in the most recent police academy class.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 0 131 1,047
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 20 39 190
BUILDING PERMITS 0 305 3,056
BANKRUPTCIES 17 135 753
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 53 329
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0