VOL. 131 | NO. 107 | Monday, May 30, 2016
Crime Stats Chronicle Recent Spike in Violent Crime
By Bill Dries
Myneishia Johnson’s funeral was the day before she was supposed to graduate from high school.
The teenager’s death at the corner of Second Street and Peabody Place on May 22 came on one of the first busy Downtown weekends of the spring not connected to a Memphis in May International Festival event.
It was one of several clusters of homicides that pushed the city’s murder toll past 90 less than five months into the year, not quite double where the homicide count was a year ago at this time.
Two other people seriously wounded in the spray of gunfire that killed Johnson are part of a larger group of Memphians represented in crime statistics – those wounded in the violence.
Aggravated assault is the largest category in violent crime statistics kept by the Memphis-Shelby Crime Commission that make up the major violent crime rate.
From Jan. 1 through the end of April, there were 384.7 aggravated assaults in the city per 100,000 population.
It is the same ratio that is used in determining the homicide rate as well as the rates for rape and robberies, the other crimes that make up the major violent crime rate.
By comparison there were 8.1 murders per 100,000 population from New Year’s Day to April 30, 147.4 robberies and 19 rapes in the first four months of 2016 in Memphis.
The 8.1 homicide rate is where the homicide rate for January-April in Memphis was in 2006 when local law enforcement and criminal justice system leaders began consistently tracking crime in the city and countywide.
Figures from the first four months of the years 2011-2015 show homicide rates of 5.2 to 5.9 per 100,000, except for a spike to 7 per 100,000 in the first four months of 2014.
The 2006 stats across all of the categories became the baseline for the Operation: Safe Community crime fighting strategy – the benchmark for measuring whether crime was up or down in general and by specific category.
The baseline coincided with the Memphis Police Department’s move under then-police director Larry Godwin to the Blue CRUSH model of policing. Blue CRUSH concentrated police coverage to saturate areas with a statistical increase in crime, and tailor coverage to the types of crimes rising in those areas.
The loss of several hundred police officers in recent years has made the strategy more difficult to implement.
Former Mayor A C Wharton denied that he had curtailed Blue CRUSH after Godwin retired and Toney Armstrong became police director. Wharton and Armstrong advocated a return to community policing in addition to the Blue CRUSH strategy.
But some city council members, including future Mayor Jim Strickland, said Blue CRUSH was curtailed before the exodus from the police ranks and that it was a clear shift away from the strategy.
Strickland has vowed to bring back Blue CRUSH under interim police director Michael Rallings.
Rallings has emphasized community involvement and help for police, as well as noting that the police force has dropped to 2,000 officers.
The crime commission figures, released Thursday, May 26, show rapes are down 19.4 percent from the first four months of 2015. The other three categories all showed an increase from a year ago as did the overall major violent crime rate in Memphis.
The numbers show the major violent crime rate in Memphis for January through April was up 9.2 percent compared to the same four months of 2015. It was up 10.8 percent countywide from a year ago.
Incoming crime commission president Bill Gibbons termed the violent crime statistics “unacceptable.”
Gibbons takes the president’s post in September after leaving his current post of Tennessee Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security.
During his tenure with the state, Gibbons has remained part of the crime commission and Operation: Safe Community.
Gibbons said city leaders should remain committed to Operation: Safe Community, “including data-driven deployment of police, vigorous prosecution of convicted felons who persist in toting guns, effective drug treatment and breaking the cycle of domestic violence.”
“We have planned our work,” he said in a written statement. “We need to keep working our plan.”
The major property crime category saw a 4.5 percent decrease January-April in Memphis compared to the same four months in 2015. The property crime category saw a 6.8 percent drop countywide over the same period from a year ago.
That category includes burglaries, thefts and car thefts.
The car theft category alone saw an increase from a year ago in Memphis and countywide.
Car thefts were up 10.3 percent in the city from a year ago and up 6.2 percent countywide.