VOL. 131 | NO. 215 | Thursday, October 27, 2016
Federal Review of MPD to Take Two Years
By Bill Dries
The U.S. Justice Department agency reviewing the Memphis Police Department will start meeting the public after Thanksgiving in the first two town hall meetings to hear from citizens.
The Nov. 29 and 30 sessions at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church and Hickory Hill Community Center, respectively, are part of a two-year process.
The Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services – or COPS – will present preliminary findings and observations six to eight months in and then issue two more reports up to the two-year mark.
At least initially, the focus of the review will be how the MPD uses community policing and the department’s use of deadly force.
But Noble Wray, the chief of the collaborative reform initiative, said Wednesday, Oct. 26, it could venture into related areas as those conducting the independent review cast a wide net of seeking public input from police officers and brass to citizens.
“This is a two-year process and you really do open yourself up to a lot of scrutiny,” Wray said Wednesday in Memphis. “These reports sometimes can be pretty harsh and I have to say that upfront.”
U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton talked generally about the broader review this fall after his office reviewed the July 2015 police shooting of Darrius Stewart and concluded there were no grounds to bring federal charges against police officer Connor Schilling.
Stanton said the COPS review is prompted “not only by the Stewart matter, but other instances and issues expressed by citizens of our city over the past number of months and recent years.”
“It’s not a quick fix or a magic wand or a panacea to the challenges that law enforcement faces as it relates to community policing,” Stanton added.
The COPS initiative has reviews underway in 14 cities. The city does not pay any of the cost for the review.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings sought the review shortly after Strickland became mayor and Rallings went from interim police director to permanent director.
Rallings said he began pushing for the review in the spring, before a Black Lives Matter movement protest drew several thousand people and shut down the Hernando DeSoto Bridge in July.
“To make long-lasting, substantial progress, you have to develop a road map,” Rallings said.
In his meetings with the public, Strickland has said he is hearing more from about law and order issues than questions or criticisms of police policies. But he also said the city wants the review and will cooperate fully.
“We have a great Memphis Police Department, but we want an even better one. The great majority of Memphis has trust in the Memphis Police Department,” he said. “But we want the trust of every one of our citizens. This review will strengthen our department on both fronts.”
Stanton pushed for the review in part “because it comes with tangible and meaningful resources.” But that doesn’t include funding for more police officers – at least not directly, Wray said.
“Having said that, the COPS office is responsible for grants that allow for universal hiring of police officers,” he added.
Within the collaborative review process, Wray said COPS could provide free technical assistance, including experts and training in areas like recognizing implicit bias and procedural justice.
Strickland and Rallings have made increasing the size of the police force – now at 2,000 officers – a priority. Their goal is a net increase of at least 400 officers.
But federal grants for hiring new police officers over several decades are closely followed these days by questions about how long the federal funding will last and at what point paying for those police officers becomes a local government’s responsibility.
Wray said the study’s recommendations and other finding could likely have “budgetary implications” for city government as well.