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Memphis police chief looks to ‘redirect’ focus to reduce violence

Published: May. 23, 2022 at 8:02 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Memphis police chief plans to “redirect” the focus of some of her officers to help reduce crime.

It comes as certain types of violent crime rise across the city and as the department works to reduce the police officer shortage.

The city’s public data hub shows the Memphis Police Department had 1,933 officers on the force as of April 30.

That’s nearly 400 short of the 2,300 officers the city hoped to reach by December 2020 and well below the 2,500 officers recommended by a public safety task force a year and a half ago.

John Covington with the Memphis Police Association says the city’s challenges go back to major budget cuts in 2014.

“We lost about 400 officers,” said Covington. “We were behind the eight ball and now the whole country is kind of facing the same issue.”

Covington says a lot of tools have been added to the toolbox that could help with the police shortage, including restoring officer benefits, loosening residency requirements, and increasing pay.

That includes the 10% pay raise Mayor Jim Strickland announced last month.

“If we’re going to get a handle on our decades-old challenge with violent crime, we must have a qualified and fully staffed police department,” said Strickland.

Until then, MPD must make do with the staff it has, and that means shifting its focus as certain types of crime, like gun violence, rise.

At a budget hearing last week, Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis told council members she’s “redirecting” some of the department’s attention and manpower from organized crime to focus more on patrolling the streets.

“It’s not that we’re stopping altogether but we’ve had to take a really close look at where our staffing levels are and how we get more out of the folks that work,” said Davis.

There were 11 shootings in Memphis over the weekend. Five people died and six more were sent to the hospital.

Davis says the department is seeing more young people committing crimes.

“We’re seeing more and more violence by 13 and 14-year-olds,” Davis said. “It’s a problem we’re starting to see a repeat from.”

MPD says 564 guns have been stolen from cars in the first three months of this year compared to 378 during the same time period last year, a 49 percent increase.

During the first three months of 2022, police have arrested 106 juveniles for gun-related crimes compared to 59 last year.

As for recruitment efforts, Covington says the police union is optimistic.

“The proof will be in the pudding but I think that we’re definitely moving in the right direction and we’ll continue to evaluate as we move forward,” said Covington.

Memphis police spent about $25 million on overtime last year, in part because of the officer shortage.

The department is proposing spending nearly that same amount this year.

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