Incoming Memphis police chief faces myriad of challenges

Published: May. 5, 2021 at 6:19 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The city’s incoming police chief, Cerelyn ‘C.J.’ Davis, doesn’t take office until next month, but she’s already facing a full plate.

Davis will lead a department facing a number of challenges.

Some say her appointment provides a perfect opportunity for real change.

“I think that we have a really great opportunity to do some things differently,” said Chelsea Glass, a community organizer with Decarcerate Memphis, a grassroots group focused on criminal justice reform.

In an open letter addressed to Davis, they’re calling on her to commit to ten steps in her first 100 days.

They include ending militarized policing and training, getting rid of fees that make it hard to obtain police bodycam footage and giving the civilian police reform board, known as CLERB, more power.

They’re also calling on Davis to end ticketing and citations for all parking or driving-related fees not related to a moving violation and want her to hold monthly public meetings on police matters.

“If she’s serious about reform, then the requests we have laid out here are very simple and she should not take issue with them in any way,” said Glass.

Ahead of her confirmation vote Tuesday, Davis told council members she’ll take a “deep look” at MPD policies to ensure they’re aligned with best practices.

She says the way officers approach their jobs must also change.

“This work should be an altruistic type of work that we do every day, a humanitarian type of work,” said Davis. “It really begs to change the manner in which we train from being warriors and robots to have personality and concern and empathy for the community members that we serve.”

Davis must also address recruiting and retention challenges.

MPD is still hundreds of officers short.

There’s also violent crime.

The city experienced a record number of homicides in 2020.

Councilman J.B. Smiley has confidence in Davis.

“What she does bring is a wealth of information and a wealth of knowledge to address and reduce the violent crime, which is one of the most important problems that we have to address in the city of Memphis,” said Smiley.

Davis’s first day on the job as MPD chief will be June 14th.

These are the requests Decarerate Memphis is asking Davis to commit to:

  • Publicly commit to ending MPD’s participation in the Federal 1033 program and similar programs that enable MPD to obtain military and surveillance equipment, and return or destroy equipment obtained through these programs. End MPD’s cooperation with Federal Task Force Operations.
  • End costs associated with obtaining body camera footage and records requested by a complainant, victim, or arrestee and make all MPD policies, as well as current and past MOU’s and any agreements with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, publicly available online and upon request.
  • Order a review and overhaul of the MPD and Internal Affairs complaint process and redact civilian’s personal information when officers are notified of a complaint filed against them. All civilians should have the ability to file a complaint 24/7 by fax, email, hotline or in person, and be allowed an advocate on hand when filing and being interviewed.
  • Release a timeline for all officers to receive training on CIT, sexual assault trauma, PTSD and victimization, as well as comprehensive cultural sensitivity training for all MPD Officers, specifically pertaining to disabilities, mental health, homelessness, and gender nonconformity.
  • End ticketing and citations for all parking or driving-related fees not related to a moving violation (i.e., broken tail lights, window tinting, loud music) that would result in preventing a person from receiving a driver’s license and deprioritize citations and arrests for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
  • Begin holding monthly public meetings for input and inquiries from the public related to police matters, in which the Police Chief and other representatives from the Memphis Police Department are available to answer questions. Allow for public comment and questions to be made anonymously. Meetings should be held in accessible locations that are not a police precinct or police station and include online accessibility.
  • End the use of militarized police training (such as training informed by Israeli Defense Forces), equipment, and response to protests and end racially biased, data-driven and surveillance-based policing, commonly known as Blue-CRUSH. Review MPD’s relationship with federal task force agencies and provide transparent data related to how these agencies operate, and outcomes from local operations conducted by federal police task forces.
  • Begin implementation of new “early-warning” systems to identify officers most likely to have negative public/police interactions by tracking violations of department rules of conduct, unjustified use of force, civilian or officer injury, and complaints for discourteous officer behavior, as well as indicators of stressful or traumatic incidents, by tracking the frequency of response to incidents such as suicide and domestic-violence calls.
  • Prohibit Memphis Police officers from inquiring about individuals’ immigration status. Implement a new anti-racial profiling policy that would include an annual audit of the rate of officer contact by race and a review of disparity in official charges by race.
  • Review and respond to past recommendations by the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) that were rejected by the former Director. Fully cooperate with requests from CLERB for documents, records, and officer testimony. Work to thoughtfully respond to and incorporate recommendations made by CLERB.

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