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Area crime concerns reverberate amid pain and need for solutions

Fielding questions as family members and supporters of victims of violence gathered for the annual Season of Remembrance event, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy outlined law enforcement efforts to address soaring violent crime rates in Memphis, including the city’s record-setting homicide rate.

Shelby County DA Steve Mulroy speaks during the Season of Remembrance event at the University of Memphis. (Photos: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The Tri-State Defender)

The AG’s comments came during an interview at the University of Memphis on Monday (Nov. 27). The Season of Remembrance, which predates Mulroy’s election as DA, was his second.

“We have an unacceptably high homicide rate, and we all need to come together as a community to do what we can about it. And unless we all come together and work together, we’re not going to be able to stop this scourge of violence,” Mulroy told reporters.

On Nov. 20, it was announced that Memphis suffered its 352nd homicide of the year, a new record.

With 32 days left in 2023, the grim statistic has surpassed the previous high of 346, set in 2021. Since the announcement, the number has climbed to 359.

The surging rate is often blamed on a revolving door judicial system that turns alleged criminals loose soon after arrest. Critics of the system say that fact puts more pressure on an outmanned area law enforcement agencies as they try to stem the violence.

That criticism of a “porous” justice system is mirrored in the example of 18-year-old Edio White. On Thanksgiving Day, 15-year-old Anthony Mason was slain in Binghamton during a robbery.

Another 15-year-old, Conner Tucker, is accused of pulling the trigger. Police said White drove the getaway car. He was released on his own recognizance. Both suspects face first-degree murder charges.

“Violence is the top priority of this office, and homicide is the worst of all offenses. And we’re going to do everything we can in that case and in every other case we have that’s pending to make sure that justice is done,” said Mulroy.

Attendees at the annual Season of Remembrance event. Memphis already has surpassed the previous record high of 346 homicides set in 2021. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The Tri-State Defender)

According to the Shelby County Crime Commission, the major violent crime rate has risen 5.6 percent compared to last year’s numbers.

It was exceeded by a 9.6 percent rise in Shelby County’s overall crime rate.

Folded within the numbers is a 10 percent jump in gun related incidents in Memphis. There were 510 incidents more than the prior year.

The county’s top prosecutor also used the event, which brings together family and friends of victims of violence, to outline plans to address Memphis’ soaring violent crime rate.

These efforts will include contributions from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tuesday (Nov. 28), it was announced that Memphis will join Houston, becoming the second city to host a Violent Crime Initiative.

The data-driven initiative is expected to be accompanied by a surge in federal law enforcement officials, resources, and expertise. These include RICO prosecutors and violent crime experts.

They will work closely with the Memphis Police Department forensic experts, along with counterparts with the FBI and the ATF.

The influx follows an August summit Mulroy hosted. The conference drew area leadership, including both the Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and the Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.

They were joined by leadership of the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, as well as Juvenile Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon.

The meeting brought a consensus on shared priorities took shape, including adding more teeth to violent crime charges, along with guaranteed prison time for repeat offenders.

“With violent crime in particular, we have a number of initiatives that we’re doing just in our DA’s Office,” said Mulroy in the interview. “Once they get to us, I’ve issued instructions that for non-fatal shootings, aggravated assaults, and criminal attempted murder – it’s much harder to dismiss those cases.

“There’s a checklist of things we have to do…We have to get approval from the very highest levels of the office before we can dismiss those cases.”

Data sharing is also a priority.

Mulroy said, “We need to do a better job of sharing data with each other and keeping track of the data so we can do data-driven decision making. We can bend the curve on this violent crime. You’ll be hearing more about that in the months to come, especially in the new year.”

To reduce recidivism among non-violent offenders, discussion centered around better coordinating with intervention programs, like Memphis Allies.

The city’s Group Violence Intervention program is another option. Together, the programs could provide a layer of supervision, by adding requirements to probation. Some of the conditions under discussion were drug treatment, along with job training and placement.

Memphis is plagued with nonviolent offenses, particularly property crimes. In addition to robberies, these often include vehicle-related crimes, like car thefts or property thefts from break-ins.

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