The Investigators: Stay safe on the Real Beale Street

The Investigators: Stay safe on the Real Beale Street
Published: Jul. 3, 2015 at 1:29 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 3, 2015 at 10:46 AM CDT
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MPD SkyCop cameras monitor Downtown streets for gunshots and other crimes. (Source: WMC Action...
MPD SkyCop cameras monitor Downtown streets for gunshots and other crimes. (Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The best view of Beale Street may be more exclusive than you think.

The Memphis Police Department's Real Time Crime Center boasts 42 fifty-inch monitors. People outside MPD rarely see this award-winning technology.

"The cameras are above the officers' view, so they do see things that the officers may not see because they are a part of the crowd," Deputy Chief of Training Jim Harvey said.

According to the Downtown Memphis Commission, approximately 10 million tourists and locals alike eat, play and party in the area each year. MPD has more than 70 cameras keeping an eye on all parts of the Entertainment District.

"It's as safe to go to Beale Street as it is anywhere else," Harvey said.

In fact, some could say it's even safer than other parts of the city.

Police records show seven aggravated assaults reported on Beale Street between May 2014 and May 2015. Fifty-eight misdemeanor simple assaults were reported over the same time period.

The number of other incidents, such as drug offenses, domestic violence, pick pocketing, and disorderly conduct, were even smaller.

"On weekends and large events, you're going to have 70-100 officers down here," Colonel Gloria Bullock said. "Seventy to 100 officers for 5000 people on Beale Street alone. Those officers are working extremely hard, and I think they're doing a fantastic job."

In addition to uniformed police officers, Beale Street arms security teams with metal detectors to check anyone entering the street on Friday and Saturday nights in the summer.

When headlines like 'Memphis soldier shot and killed' near FedExForum and 'Three Memphis police officers robbed on Beale' appear in the news, faith in the safety of the street diminishes. However, officials said those crimes are not representative of the larger picture.

"That is human nature for a few thousand years," said one Beale Street visitor. "When the sun goes down, people do stranger stuff."

On Beale Street, the majority of violent crimes occur long after the sun goes down. In fact, investigators said most crimes occur between midnight and 4 a.m., late Saturday night into early Sunday morning.

"I live and work downtown," Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Morris said. "My wife and kids go around Beale Street all the time, but we don't go in back alleys at 2 a.m. with $200 in cash without any cameras and witnesses."

Chances are, if something does happen on Beale Street, the cameras in the Real Time Crime Center can send the first alert.

Many of the city's cameras are SkyCop Gunshot Enclosure Systems. They're programmed to detect gunfire and immediately pan and zoom toward the sound.

That's how police captured images on Memorial Day when soldier Calvin Wilhite was shot and killed after an argument just after midnight.

The SkyCop camera clearly recorded the man accused of pulling the trigger. Police have not released the video yet, however.

An arrest was made in that case this week, but police have not said whether it's the man captured on camera.

"Cameras are everywhere downtown," Bullock explained. "So I'm saying that downtown really is the safest part. And people need to know that."

To plan the safest Beale Street experience, consider that most of the problems occur after midnight Sunday, between people or groups who know each other. Plus, most of those problems involve excessive alcohol.

Drink responsibly and know when to leave, because cops and cameras are only part of what keeps crime down on one of the country's most famous streets.

"When you mix alcohol and a large group of people together, and then you throw in a temper tantrum, and you start insulting somebody, then you're asking for trouble."

A good rule for going out anywhere, especially Beale Street, is to go with someone you trust, and never hesitate to alert an officer or security guard if something doesn't feel right.

Copyright 2015 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.