Billed as “A City on the Rise,” Mayor Jim Strickland’s State of the City address identifies three areas of focus that he asserts will make Memphis stronger.
Delivered Wednesday at the Memphis Kiwanis Club, Strickland’s 2022 version of his annual assessment of the city builds upon his declaration that “the state of Memphis is strong – still recovering – but strong.”
The keys to gaining strength, according to Strickland, are: “our plan for addressing crime, the state of our economy and the incredible opportunities that exist, and a transformative reallocation of tax dollars at the state level.”
Painting a picture of the recovery scenario, Strickland, who is nearly halfway through his second term, said his administration has been “fighting a war against a global pandemic, fighting a rise in violent criminal behavior” … as work continues on “improving the delivery of day-to-day city services to the level at which you deserve.”
A “frustrating and challenging” obstacle
Reiterating his often-made statement that there is no “quick fix” to the plague of violent crime, Strickland said he plans to propose “a significant pay increase and retention bonus plan” in pursuit of retaining police officers and growing the almost 2,000-officer force. The goal is 2,500 officers.
During his six years in office, officers have received a combined 11.75 percent to 13.75 percent pay raise, Strickland said, with all having bonuses of least $5,000.
He referenced a new evidence-based, gun intervention program among the efforts to interrupt the cycle of violent crime.
And, he pointed to results from new Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis’ 40-officer Scorpion Unit: 566 arrests (390 for felonies) and seizures of $103,000-plus in cash, 270 vehicles and 253 weapons.
While committed to exploring alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders, Strickland said, “We must remove from our streets those predators who perpetrate violence and use guns to harm and rob others.”
His top legislative priorities for the year include “addressing state laws governing sentencing for aggravated assaults,” which he said is the largest driver of the violent crime rate.
Strickland outlined efforts and partnerships his administration has made and engaged in to positively affect more young people, saying, “The true long-term solution to crime is young people picking the right path instead of the wrong one.”
Other elements of fighting crime involve reducing recidivism and increasing economic opportunity, with Strickland noting what his administration’s focus has been in those areas. He lamented changes in state law that make it easier to get guns and said the state has significantly underfunded mental health treatment.
Saying Juvenile Court is more of a revolving door than the jail facility at 201 Poplar, Strickland said, “Very few juveniles are held by the court, and too little supervision and intervention is provided for those cited by MPD for breaking the law.”
Noting that Shelby County Government is 100 percent responsible for the juvenile justice system, Strickland said more resources should be put into Juvenile Court and the new Youth Assessment Center.
“Without more resources, too many at-risk juveniles will continue engaging in at-risk behaviors. We must change the hearts and minds of our most at-risk youth so they do not pick up the gun in the first place.”
“We’re getting back on track”
Making the argument that the city’s progress was slowed by the pandemic after experiencing momentum on all fronts, Strickland said, “we’re getting back on track.”
The city has nearly made up all the lost ground on jobs and had a good year on the economic development front despite the pandemic, said Strickland, who touted 33 project announcements, notably Ford Motor and Blue Oval.
“Right now, we have thousands of available jobs at private employers across our community, as well as many available positions within City of Memphis government.”
“A transformative reallocation”
Changes in state law have severely reduced the flow of money to cities such as Memphis, said Strickland, detailing his administration’s support of two bills that would reallocate the existing split in sales tax revenue, returning more to cities and counties.
“These bills would net city government over $12 million per year. … (W)e are actively recruiting and retaining police officers, and the reallocation of these sales taxes would allow us to give your police officers and firefighters higher raises.”
The state, said Strickland, also appears to have an additional $2 billion in surplus one-time money, adding that, “We have asked state officials to help us fund some of our capital projects, which will result in catalytic improvement in the quality of life and overall experience in Memphis for decades to come.”
Finally, said Strickland, Memphis is not through changing the world.
“While we have our challenges, I believe the future of Memphis is brighter now than it ever has been, and I look forward to a strong year in 2022.”
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