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VOL. 133 | NO. 15 | Friday, January 19, 2018

Growing the Ranks

Strickland: Memphis about to meet goal of net gain in police

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland defines the state of the city halfway through his four-year term of office as “strong and getting stronger every day.”

Mayor Jim Strickland gave his state of the city address to the Memphis Kiwanis Club Wednesday, Jan. 17, saying the city is about to experience its first net gain in police officers in seven years. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

Strickland delivered his state of the city address Wednesday, Jan. 17, at the Memphis Kiwanis Club to a crowd of 100, including several division directors.

While Wednesday’s address was the first, Strickland will give other speeches with the same theme in the coming weeks.

The Kiwanis speech came the day before the Memphis Police Department graduated a class of 80 recruits Thursday at First Baptist Church – Broad. The class means the MPD will have a net annual gain in police officers for the first time in seven years, a goal Strickland set when he took office in January 2016.

“Now the challenge is to keep it going, keep it moving,” he said after the speech, referring to the goal of training enough police recruits to offset and exceed the number of officers leaving or retiring from the force.

The administration’s goal is a force of 2,300 to 2,400, from just under 2,000 when he took office. Strickland said he remains convinced increasing the police force is essential to reducing violent crime in Memphis.

“When we had 2,452, we had reduced violent crime by 26 percent,” he said. “As we’ve lost officers, that violent crime has raised. We can’t eliminate crime with just police officers, but we can reduce it.”

Not counting the 80 recruits out of the police training academy this week, the force currently stands at 1,945. Some of those are police brass in the upper ranks who have delayed their retirement in an effort to retain officers until the complement gets closer to the goal.

Strickland said along with the new police recruit classes and their graduates, his administration’s long-term plan includes backing stiffer penalties for violent crime, creating a re-entry program for those coming out of prison, promoting job training and paying expungement fees for first-time offenders if they stay out of trouble for five years after being released.

“I am not satisfied with the result we are getting,” Strickland said of violent crime. “I don’t think (Memphis Police) director (Michael) Rallings or anyone in our administration is. But I am convinced if we keep improving what we are doing and go in this direction, we will long-term reduce the level of violent crime.”

William Brack, an attendee of Mayor Jim Strickland’s state of the city speech Wednesday, asks a question following the address. Strickland, who is halfway throuhg his four-year term, says the city is “strong and getting stronger every day.” (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

He described violent crime as “our greatest challenge.”

“That’s why we’re rebuilding the Memphis Police Department,” he said. “That’s why we’ve partnered with the U.S. Attorney’s office to strengthen the enforcement of laws for violent repeat offenders. That’s why we’ve done so much to intervene in the lives of our young people.”

Strickland also said the city is close to identifying a “sustainable funding solution” to provide universal prekindergarten in the city.

The revenue stream is to be identified by the time Strickland takes his annual budget proposal to the Memphis City Council in April and could involve some kind of citywide referendum if the revenue involves a sales tax hike. Two previous proposed sales tax hikes – city and county – toward universal prekindergarten were defeated by voters in 2012 and 2013.

Asked about the death of a woman whose body was found Wednesday morning on the Main Street Mall outside City Hall, Strickland said the unidentified woman was not homeless.

“I do know that she was in a home – either a care home or a personal home as of (Tuesday),” he told reporters. “She left in some sort of disagreement with the other people who live in the home and unfortunately it was so cold last night. I don’t know her personal background.”

Police believe the woman could have died from exposure to the below-freezing temperatures. The Shelby County Medical Examiner’s Office will determine the cause of death.

Strickland said the city is prepared to open another overnight warming shelter if needed. But he said the current shelter at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar Ave., still has room.

The center had 113 guests Tuesday evening as temperatures dropped to single digits. From Friday night through Tuesday, a total of 467 Memphians had found shelter at the library, according to the city.

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