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Former Memphis Police Department director to lead Shelby County Schools’ review of safety protocols

Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 10:34 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A former top cop in Memphis is taking a hard look at the safety protocols for Shelby County Schools (SCS) one week after a 13-year-old student was injured in a shooting.

SCS enlisted the help of Toney Armstrong to evaluate the district’s security procedures.

While Armstrong focuses on what SCS security measures work and which ones may need improvement, Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray plans to make a renewed push to create his own school police force, which he calls a Peace Force.

Ray announced on Thursday he was calling in a heavy hitter to help SCS do some heavy lifting. Armstrong, who served as director of the Memphis Police Department from 2011 to 2016, will lead the district’s review of safety protocols.

“He’s a tried and true veteran leader,” Ray said of Armstrong. “As with our commitment to instruction and achievement, this collaboration with Director Armstrong is an opportunity for continuous improvement.”

Armstrong is currently the head of security for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. His bosses, he said, gave him an enthusiastic green light to assist SCS in beefing up school security.

“I wasn’t surprised with their answer,” he said, “when they said how in the world can you say no to anything that could possible save a child’s life?”

Ray said Armstrong will do the following:

  • Lead a comprehensive and rigorous review of SCS safety practices
  • Assist with training protocols
  • Help the district revisit the Peace Force idea

The Peace Force would consist of armed, school police officers who would replace the Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies who currently work in the schools. Ray believes peace officers would be able to build better relationships with the students and help de-escalate more situations.

Armstrong, born in Memphis and a product of SCS, said he’s making good on a promise he made when he left the Memphis Police Department.

“I love this city,” said Armstrong. “And one of the last things I said is that I’ll do absolutely anything to see this city flourish.”

And it will ultimately take a citywide effort, said Ray, to keep the system’s 110,000 students safe.

“Literacy is life, not guns,” he said. “And we can only conquer this issue if we do it together.”

The 13-year-old injured in last week’s school shooting is back in class. Ray said the victim’s parents prayed together with the suspect’s parents at SCS headquarters on Tuesday.

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