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VOL. 133 | NO. 132 | Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Size of Memphis Police Force Study Weighs Numbers in Ranks and How to Use Them

By Bill Dries

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The Memphis Police Department is zeroing in on an exact number of officers it should have with a “zero-based” study to be completed in the fall.

“There is pretty much a consensus that we need at least about 2,300 officers,” Bill Gibbons, president of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.”

The premise behind the zero-based examination is to look at staffing anew instead of tied to assumptions based on current staffing levels.

Bill Gibbons

“What the plan calls for is a zero-based assessment of staffing needs within the police department and the sheriff’s office as well,” Gibbons said. “That’s kind of guesswork right now.”

In 2017, the MPD posted its first net gain in officers in six years. Gibbons said that was one of several factors in a recent drop in violent crime as measured by the crime commission and as part of the Operation Safe Community effort.

Operation Safe Community, which is a coalition of law enforcement and criminal justice system leaders, set its master plan after a 2006 peak in violent crime. Between then and 2011, violent crime dropped by 25 percent.

Gibbons said it’s no coincidence that 2011 was also the year that the Memphis Police Department had a force of 2,500. That was followed by a decrease – losing 20 percent of the force in the next five years.

“That was not the total answer but I think that was a factor along with data-driven deployment of those officers,” Gibbons said. “I’m not saying that is the only factor but I think that’s an example of a factor that we do have to consider in terms of looking at the crime rate.”

Harold Collins

The drop also was accompanied by a shift away from the “Blue Crush” method of focusing police resources in areas that were crime hot spots and then moving the officers as the hot spots shifted. The move away from Blue Crush was meant to be a move toward a more traditional concept of community policing that wasn’t necessarily focused on hot spots.

Harold Collins, a former Memphis City Council member and vice president of community engagement for OSC, said the effect is more than numbers in the ranks but how the officers are used.

“We were able to use those officers in the community. They were more active in getting out in the street, getting in the community, participating in a number of community events which provided more of a presence to the community,” he said. “Today we don’t have that luxury. Officers are running from call to call to call to call so that puts them behind the eight ball.”

But Collins said plans by the city to de-annex five to six areas of the city and approval of two of those areas already – one that is unpopulated – could have an impact on what the specific number of police officers needed turns out to be.

Van Turner

County Commissioner Van Turner says a new class of Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies funded by the commission should also be used to patrol within the city of Memphis.

“We want those officers if at all possible to shore up where there is need within the city limits,” he said. “Again we are all one county. When people are suffering, when there’s crime and when bad things are happening in the city of Memphis, that affects the entire county. I think it is incumbent upon this commission to do what it can to shore up the Memphis Police department in areas where there is need.”

Turner said knowing those officers and building a relationship can help with a “better response” between police and the community.

“If that officer has been in the community – has introduced himself or herself to the community and you know that officer is for the community, wants to assist the community and not hurt the community – I think you have a better response,” he said. “Of course, I’ve been pulled over. I know others who have been pulled over. And it is stressful as an African-American.”

Turner said incidents of Memphis Police using deadly force and questions about the use of the deadly force have been something “you don’t see on a consistent basis.”

Collins said he was pulled over several months ago “by a whole team of police officers.”

“They mistook my car for a car that may have been in a robbery. They stopped me, pulled me over – the first thing I’m doing is keeping my hands visible,” he said. “I think one thing we have to do is understand the amount of stress that these officers are under each and every day. That’s no excuse. But we have to understand that and then recognize the stress that as an African-American man we’re under every day. When it gets to the point of tipping over, that’s when cooler heads need to prevail.”

Gibbons said a year-long effort to handle technical violations of probation and parole without a return to jail for those offenders is under review with preliminary indications that it may be helping to reduce the recidivism rate locally.

A third of those in jail locally will return to imprisonment with three years. Gibbons says “a sizable percentage” are those who have violated some condition of parole or probation.

Collins said it keeps them attached to the criminal justice system.

“The glue is the fees and the fines and the probation fees that these people have to pay because they take off work and they get fired because they have to go to court so they have no job,” he said. “Then they have to pay for housing, food, clothing and all of these other things. And then on top of that you pile hundreds of thousands of dollar potentially in fees and fines and probation fees.”

“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

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