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Council asks Sheriff’s Office for a permanent presence Downtown after mass shooting

With the city’s latest Downtown violent outburst still resonating, Memphis City Council members unanimously adopted a non-binding resolution requesting a permanent Shelby County Sheriff’s Office presence on Downtown streets.

The council’s action came during its Tuesday (Aug. 22) meeting, which also featured an appearance by Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr.

The appeal for extra officers follows an early Sunday morning (Aug. 13) Downtown shooting that left several bystanders with non-critical injuries.

The resolution passed 10-0.

“I think it’s beneficial for the folks who live in the City of Memphis, if the collaboration between the MPD and the Sheriff’s Office is something that is sustained on a permanent basis. Not some situation where you have to request for help,” said co-sponsor JB Smiley Jr., the council’s vice chair.

“If you turn on the news, we need help every single day.”

Earlier Tuesday, a working plan for Downtown safety was discussed during the council’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee meeting.

In addition to an added sheriff’s deputy presence, the Downtown Safety Plan calls for blocking selected streets around Beale Street. It also limits access to hotels, parking garages and other businesses.

On weekends, officers assigned to the entertainment district will work 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts. Previously, they cleared the area by 2 a.m.

The Memphis Police Department plans to make the Downtown assignments permanent.

“What we’ve had in the past has really been sort of these pop-up operations. This is not a pop-up operation. This is the new normal,” said MPD Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis.

Traditionally, the Sheriff’s Department has loaned officers upon request. These often come during annual events such as the Southern Heritage Classic, Memphis in May, and the Christmas Day Parade.

Davis also said decisions on future use of deputies lie with Bonner.

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. as he declared his candidacy for mayor of Memphis last October. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

“All we have to do is get an ask,” Bonner told council members during the body’s regular meeting.

“I will say to this body, there was no need to pass a resolution. Anyone of you could have called me and asked the question, or made the request.”

Martavius Jones, the council chairman and resolution sponsor, pointed out that Shelby County gains most of its taxes from Memphians.

“I just felt that it was long overdue, if we’re having a safety concern – safety problem – in the city of Memphis, and the men and women of the Memphis Police Department are doing all that they can, I wanted some representation and protection for the taxes that we as Memphians pay,” said Jones.

Jones reflected on his tenure as a school board member in 2013 and said during that time, it was more common to see MPD officers assigned to county schools than sheriff’s deputies, taxes, and all.

Bonner defended his record of deployment. In addition to the County Jail, which is under Bonner’s purview, and special task forces, the SCSO also has a larger county to patrol.

There also are ongoing patrols in certain areas of Memphis. Cities with no police departments, Lakeland and Arlington, rely solely on the Sheriff’s Department for patrols. Unincorporated parts of the county, too.

Bonner, considered one of the leading candidates for mayor in the Oct. 5 city elections, said the SCSO currently provides 54 of its 600-plus deputies to county schools.

Council Chairman Martavius Jones. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

“You bring up a good point, Sheriff Bonner, if there are 54…we’ve got 200 schools,” Jones replied. “So, Memphians are paying for those, and they should be in all Shelby County schools, as well…

“If we talk about taxation without representation, are we getting our dollars’ worth in Shelby County taxes and only 54 sheriff’s deputies in schools that are in the city limits of Memphis?”

During the discussion, several members requested a visit by Bonner to the council’s Public Safety Committee to further outline the deployment plan.

Both departments suffer from officer shortages.

Prior to the pre-dawn gun violence, there had been growing concerns about crowds gathering at intersections and in front of businesses, particularly after hours.

The latest act occurred around 2:30 a.m. Eight people were shot at the intersection of Peabody Place and B.B. King Avenue, one block away from Beale Street. No one was seriously injured.

MPD stepped up its presence in the entertainment district the next day.

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