James E. Ivy

Services will be Friday for James E. Ivy, the first African-American to serve as director of the Memphis Police Department.

Mr. Ivy became police director in 1988. He passed away last Friday. He was 81.

“Director Ivy set a high bar for the rest of us to follow,” said Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings. “He exemplified all of the best qualities of service and integrity that every MPD officer should be. We owe him a great debt for his commitment to our city and its people.”

Mr. Ivy’s three-year tenure as Mayor Dick Hackett’s appointee to the director’s post was brief but groundbreaking. Not only was Ivy the first African American to lead MPD, he famously withstood the tactics of Shelby County Sheriff Jack Owens, who implemented the “jump and grab” tactic in law enforcement’s battle against crack cocaine.

Director Ivy went toe-to-toe against the controversial strategy of police and deputies posing as drug dealers on the street and making arrests of addicts attempting to buy the substance. Owens would dress in combat black in the midnight raids, calling himself “Rambo Jack” with television cameras in tow.

Mr. Ivy questioned the effectiveness of Owens’ tactics, and pulled his officers from the city and county joint Metro Narcotics Squad shortly after taking office.

Two suspects had died while in sheriff’s custody; one of the suspects was beaten to death. The sheriff’s department was under investigation by two federal judges for “irregularities in departmental operations” as well as the deaths.

“The level of effectiveness of jump-and-grab is highly questionable,” Ivy wrote to A.C. Gilless, the sheriff-elect following Owens’ suicide. “I look forward to having a positive dialog concerning jurisdictional concerns and narcotics operations.

Director Ivy is credited with working to re-unify the Metro Narcotics Squad and implementing more effective and humane policies and tactics in drug enforcement. He became a police officer in 1963 and worked his way up through the ranks.

“During Director Ivy’s tenure, he oversaw the opening of a state-of-the-art training facility, the Crisis Intervention Team was formed and he successfully led the great men and women of our police force,” Rallings said.

“In 2017, Director Ivy was recognized during our 122 police recruit graduation for his dedicated leadership; he will never be forgotten.”

A native Memphian, Mr. Ivy was born Sept. 13, 1937. Friends and family note that he was an avid music lover and owned an extensive collections of albums, totally more than 1,000. He toyed with a career in R&B as a member of a group, The Largos. Mr. Ivy’s love for singing remained with him throughout his life.

He leaves his wife, Sally Ivy, and four daughters.

Funeral services are as follows:

A 10 a.m. visitation is scheduled on Friday, June 7, at Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church, 7289 U.S. Hwy. 64.

An 11 a.m. funeral service is immediately following visitation. Interment is in Memphis Memorial Park on N. Germantown Parkway.

M.J. Edwards Funeral Home has charge.