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Crime aired as a multi-layered problem at Council’s Public Safety Committee

As the city comes to grips with the recent deaths of Tyre Nichols and Memphis Police Officer Geoffrey Redd, the Memphis City Council’s Public Safety Committee Tuesday (Feb. 21) offered a window into the tenuous balance city leaders are trying to strike between over-policing and increasing demands on law enforcement.

To date, nine people have been terminated from the Memphis Police Department and Memphis Fire Department, including five police criminally charged with fatally bludgeoning Nichols on Jan. 7.

Nichols, 29, died Jan. 10 after an aggressive traffic stop on Jan. 7, for alleged reckless driving. The officers have been charged with second-degree murder and other offenses.

Jennifer Sink (Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

“This investigation was not limited to people who were on the scene. We’ve done an investigation to really very carefully examine all aspects of the response and not just the officers on the scene, which is…we get one shot to do this,” said Jennifer Sink, chief legal officer for the city of Memphis.

Another police officer and three Fire Department EMTs, including a lieutenant, were also sacked in the fallout. There also are seven officers currently under investigation, with different levels of participation.

The cases are expected to wrap up in a matter of days.

“I would anticipate, potentially, we will be wrapping this up in the next week or two, contingent upon if we receive some additional information that requires some additional investigation that might lengthen what we’re doing,” Sink told committee members.

The criminal cases are being handled by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Nichols’ death was contrasted with that of Redd, who died Saturday (Feb. 18) after being shot at the White Station Branch Library by a man being questioned by Redd and another officer, who had responded to a trespassing call Feb. 2. The other officer fatally shot Redd’s assailant.

It was the first shooting-related death of an MPD officer in eight years.

“I can’t imagine the hell you’re going through because he’s one of yours. He’s one of your employees and also, I’m sure, your friend,” council member Frank Colvett told MPD Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis.

Both events, along with a wave of car thefts, car burglaries and carjackings have underscored the demand for increased police presence – and not just in traditionally high-crime areas – but throughout the city.

In nearly every district, rates for car theft and theft from vehicles have shot up exponentially this year.

Council members were told there were 1,355 auto thefts in January of this year compared to 621 last year.

A broader view also reflects the trend, with 11,021 stolen vehicles in 2022 over the 4,999 boosted the previous year.

“What sticks out is we’ve had 1,994 auto thefts as of yesterday. That’s an increase of 1,159, for a 139 percent increase in auto theft. That is the crime driver of the city,” said Deputy Chief Joe Oakley.

There have been 1,333 car break-ins so far this year. The total has risen by almost 500 compared to last year.

As per the nationwide trend, Kia and Hyundai models are the vehicles of choice for thieves.

Many of the crimes are committed by juvenile offenders. So far, 175 have been arrested this year. Leading the way were 15-year-olds, with 20 arrests.

They were followed by 16 and 18-year-olds, who tied for second place with 16 arrests. Third place, meanwhile, was captured by 17-year-olds.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/TSD Archives)

“We know that a lot of our young people are breaking into cars and stealing cars as almost a dare or a trend right now. They’re finding it easy to do. Infinitis are the vehicles, just this past weekend, individuals are starting to go through the roof…,” said Davis.

“Fortunately, we are starting to see some of our community members use the steering wheel locks.”

MPD currently is giving away steering lock devices, like the Club, to owners of those makes.

“It’s not just an arrest, what do we do after this person has (been arrested)…We had a case this past week. The individual was an 11-year-old…This is about his fifth or sixth time in our hands. That’s just one example,” said Davis.

Many are repeat offenders. As a result, the effectiveness of the Shelby County Juvenile Court system was called into question. Most who are arrested are soon released. Some never enter the court system.

Just how many, Colvett asked.

“My guess would be at least…70 percent,” replied Davis. “It’s very seldom the first time an individual, this young person has been participating, either with other individuals or a couple of individuals…”

Although youths are sharing the brunt of the blame and consequences, when there are any, it was also suggested that other actors may be involved beyond joyriding teens or vehicles stolen in commission of another crime, like chop shops.

“Why are these cars being continuously stolen. What are they doing with them? They just don’t leave them on the street somewhere. Somebody’s getting those cars and they are making some financial gain,” said council member Patrice Robinson.

 

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