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VOL. 132 | NO. 39 | Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rallings: Escort List Has Mistakes But Name Selection Isn’t Political

By Bill Dries

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Mistakes were made in putting together the list of 81 citizens who require a police escort at City Hall, Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said this week.

“We’ll continue to review the list. It’s a work in progress,” Rallings said after a committee session with Memphis City Council members Tuesday, Feb. 21. “We admit there are some errors on the list.”

But Rallings still wouldn’t talk about how the names were selected by police or for a no trespassing authorization list signed by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland in January for his home.

Strickland has said he doesn’t know how police selected names for the authorization or the list of people to be escorted at all times at City Hall by uniformed police.

“We’re not going to get into that right now,” Rallings said when asked how the names were selected. But he denied the list was politically motivated and that police conducted surveillance on protesters.

“It’s our responsibility to maintain public safety. I look at everything from that standpoint,” Rallings said. “It’s not a political list. We know that there are a lot of open sources. People give us information. I’ve sat down with a lot of individuals prior to a protest or an event. It’s not about that. It’s about safety.”

Rallings estimated his department spent $1.2 million on handling the Hernando DeSoto Bridge protest in July. He also cited another $75,000 the department spent on other protests and several reported shootings at local malls that wound up being false alarms.

“Managing turmoil takes innovation,” Rallings said in beginning his presentation to the council on police overtime pay.

The police department currently forecasts a $10.9 million deficit in its overtime budget. Some of that comes from overtime for the protests. But Rallings said the bulk is from a shortage in police ranks, with the size of the force below 2,000 officers currently. He plans to balance the deficit with savings in other parts of the police budget including an overall department surplus of $7.9 million forecast for the current fiscal year.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said his upcoming city budget proposal will include two new police recruit classes toward a strategy of a net gain in police ranks after factoring in attrition and retirement.

Council chairman Berlin Boyd said Tuesday the security of City Hall is not within the council’s scope of power and is the responsibility of the mayor’s office. He and the rest of the council are awaiting Rallings’ review of the list.

“There are names on the list that I found out have never been involved in a direct protest,” Boyd said. “So I don’t know how they have concluded how to add individuals to the list and how that list was determined.”

But council member Janis Fullilove said she was “livid” about the existence of the list.

“Even though we did not have a hand in coming up with the list, I think it would be irresponsible for us as good public servants not to say anything about it,” she said.

“There should not be a list of people who have done nothing – no irreparable harm to this city, this body, the 7th floor, the police department,” she said. “Everybody has a right, their First Amendment right, to free speech, expression – whether you are marching, whether you are talking. This is not the Trump era.”

Meanwhile, several dozen protesters – including many on the City Hall escort list – gathered Tuesday evening outside City Hall to poke fun at and protest the list.

Red cutouts of the letter A – a “scarlet letter” – were worn by protesters along with sashes made from yellow police crowd-control tape.

At the edge of the crowd, a plainclothes police officer recorded video of the protest.

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