by James Coleman —
Faced with a skyrocketing violent crime rate, the Memphis City Council this week discussed the creation of a task force designed to bring various organizations, government and nongovernment alike, to develop new approaches to the staggering numbers.
Most worrying is the murder rate, which has risen 26.2 percent in the last year, according to the Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission.
Violent gun-related incidents have risen 14.2 percent. Aggravated assaults have jumped 14.7 percent.
Overall, the major violent crime rate has increased 9.1 percent, with gang activity fingered as a prime culprit.
“It’s my understanding after talking with the (Memphis) mayor (Jim Strickland) about this, I think they’re dying for us to be able to nominate people to fill these positions because they need our observations on the ground to get the correct people on this task force to make it work,” said Councilman Dr. Jeff Warren, who introduced the resolution.
The proposed task force is a recognition that previous efforts to stem violent crime in Memphis and Shelby County have fallen short. Part of the blame was put on a lack of cohesion between organizations committed to the problem.
“It’s designed to coordinate all these different funding groups and bodies with different jurisdictions to come together and organize and break down the silos that they are doing to get efficiencies and improvement in how we’ve been trying to manage this in the past.
“What we’ve done isn’t working as well as we would like. We already have parts of this puzzle working separately out there and if we could get this task force designed to be the integrating force that pulls things together,” Warren said.
Representatives will be sought from every council district. In addition to law enforcement agencies and departments, the commission will seek input from a variety of community organizations and individuals.
The structure will likely feature a “major” task force. A “community” task force will report to it.
“We need community members, we need church members, we need people who have contact with gangs on here in addition to all the various organizations of our government that will make this task force work,” said Warren. “But it’s got to be developed in Memphis with people in Memphis on the task force.”
Many large cities with similar task forces developed them in recognition of local problems and politics, according to Warren.
Still, there were questions about potential overlap and redundancies between the proposed task force and current efforts.
“I’m all for more efforts to abate violent crime. It needs more funding. I don’t think we do enough as a community. I don’t think we do enough as a city or City Council. My main question on this resolution is how does it differ in responsibilities from the Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission?” asked Councilman Worth Morgan.
The Crime Commission is a non-profit focused on public safety. Started in 1997, it sets crime-reduction goals for the City of Memphis, the District Attorney’s office and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.
In 2017, it began a five-year plan to reduce rates in Memphis and Shelby County. Many of its goals have not been met.
“It’s how you take the resources you have and better coordinate with them. The Crime Commission would be in there, but the Crime Commission is not really involved in coordinating this sort of process,” replied Warren.
Buy-in to the task force from the next police director would be requisite. Current Director Michael Rallings is scheduled to retire on April 15. However, a new chief could be on the job by March 15.
Early estimates for costs to get the task force up and running range $1-2 million. Funding would come from the Mayor’s Office with the council’s approval.
Other local and state agencies would likely pitch in too. If the money is there, it will take six months to a year to take shape.
“I would like to know who the other agencies are and how they will be interacting so we have a complete picture of what we are asking the mayor to do,” said Councilwoman Cheyenne Johnson.