‘Operation: Grizzly Bear’ promises crackdown on interstate shootings

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Just this year, there have been at least 32 confirmed cases of interstate/highway shootings in Memphis & Shelby County – with a possible 33rd happening just as law enforcement announced a relaunch of “Operation: Grizzly Bear” Wednesday morning.

The Memphis Police Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, and Tennessee Highway Patrol are joining forces for Operation Grizzly Bear. Drivers will see increased patrols from all aforementioned agencies, with at least 30 troopers being brought in from other parts of the state.

“This is an ‘all hands on deck’ approach,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland while addressing the media about the revamped program at the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Headquarters on Summer Avenue.

The operation, a six-week program that cracks down on unsafe and illegal driving practices, was first launched in 2016. This time around, it will serve the same purpose, but with a new focus on roadway shootings.

“When violent acts like this happen, just like you, it makes me angry,” Strickland said. “I’m fed up with it being the lead on the news or reading it in the newspaper.”

“Reducing our decades-old crime rate is my No. 1 challenge,” Strickland said. “We still have much more work to do.”

Memphis Police say most of the shootings are random bouts of road rage or neighborhood violence which spills into the streets.

Areas that will be patrolled more heavily are the I-240/Hwy. 385 interchange leading into parts of East Memphis (Ridgeway Rd., Kirby Rd, Winchester Rd., etc.). Lately, that’s where most of the shootings have occurred.

“Stay vigilant no matter where you are,” Memphis Police Deputy Director Mike Ryall said. “We want our citizens to be safe and stay safe.”

Strickland did propose a law to representatives in Nashville to increase penalties for road rage shootings. He also doubled down on his desire to add more officers to the police department, which has approximately 2,073 commissioned officers. “We hope to be at 2,100 this year,” he said.

There has also been a road rage shooting task force created with the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office assistance. At the end of the six weeks, the agencies will compare data to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

“We are going to do everything in our power to incarcerate, prosecute and convict those who are committing these crimes,” Ryall said.