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MPD’s Citizens Police Academy graduation warrants a look back

Karanja A. Ajanaku, Executive Editor/Associate Publisher of The New Tri-State Defender.

Several weeks ago, I attended the Memphis Police Department’s 26th Citizens Police Academy Graduation at Grace Life Pentecostal Church at 4820 S. Germantown Rd. In a deadline crunch, I settled upon putting a trio of photographs with captions on Page 6 of the newspaper.

It was a solid decision. The ceremony featured 131 graduates, including Linnie Booker, the first African-American woman to serve as an Atlanta Police Department officer. I focused on that with my Lens & Lines presentation, thinking I’d do more on the graduation later.

Linnie Booker, a trailblazing former police officer in Atlanta, waits for her name to be called as a graduate of the MPD Citizens Police Academy. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

Recently, I culled my taped recordings of events to make more room for the new year. I came upon the Nov. 15 recording of the graduation ceremony’s guest speaker, MPD Director Michael Rallings.

The director’s address warrants sharing to a broader audience. That’s why I crafted this story for The New Tri-State Defender’s online arm, TSDMemphis.com.

This was Rallings’ bottom line: “Violent crime should be the enemy in Memphis and not the Memphis Police Department.”

Rallings told the audience he wanted to share truth with them. Voicing a general displeasure with media coverage, Rallings said what he wanted – and what was needed – was coverage of the good and the bad.

“Every time there is an incident – an action taken by a police officer that involves an injury, involves a death or someone complains … that ‘this wasn’t right’ – we conduct a full and thorough investigation,” he said. “We hold our people accountable.

MPD Director Michael Rallings called for critical thinking when assessing the performance of the department and its officers. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

“So when people say there is no accountability, they are not telling the truth. It may not be what they want to happen. But officers have rules that they have to follow. We don’t make it up as we go…”

Noting a push on the Shelby County Commission to have all officer-involved shootings investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Rallings said he did not oppose such TBI involvement. However, he said, the TBI has said it doesn’t have the manpower.

Shelby County, the most populous county in the state, unfortunately is the most violent, he said.

“Nobody is close. We have a problem in Shelby County. … Let’s talk about arrests. There were 62,000 arrests in 2017. How many shootings were we involved in 2017? Four. Zero fatal shootings in 2017. …”

None of 2017’s 200 homicides involved a Memphis police officer, he said.

Citizens Police Academy graduates lock in on Director Rallings and his message. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

“I need y’all to be critical thinkers. I need y’all to spend time in these precincts and I need you to spend time with these officers because when you ride in that squad car … you see the world differently…”

In 2011, MPD had 14 officer-involved shootings, including four fatals, Rallings said. “When you compare 2011 to 2017, there was a 73 percent decrease since 2011 and a 100 percent decrease in fatals.”

Describing Memphis as one of the toughest cities to police in the nation, Rallings said, “We rarely have an officer-involved shooting. Why is that? Because these officers care; they care about you and they also care enough to not want to harm individuals that should not be harmed.

“Officers often don’t have a choice to make,” he said.

“If somebody is shooting at officer, the officer is probably going to shoot back. If you point a gun at an officer, they are probably going to point a gun at you and you might get shot. If you don’t do those things, you are not going to get shot.”

MPD names officers in police shooting case

GALLERY (Photos: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

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