Rev. Bill Adkins: “We want to enable our detectives, our investigators on the scene when they talk to a potential witness to be able to say to them, ‘if you are afraid, we have a program that can relocate you out of this community.’ We want our investigators to have that as a tool in their toolbox to utilize.” (Screen capture)

“Violent crime in this city has gone berserk” and our streets are “like rivers of blood,” the Rev. Bill Adkins said matter-of-factly while amplifying the need for the new 901 Witness Relocation Assistance Program detailed on Monday.

“You know it and I know it,” added Adkins, pastor of Greater Imani Church, The Cathedral of Faith. “This is just one initiative joining other initiatives.”

Introduced as “901 WRAP” and to be funded by “the citizenry of Memphis,” the aim is to “move witnesses from their present communities to safer areas, far away from the threats and intimidation they would face in their present community,” Adkins said, flanked by public officials at a news conference.

Greater Imani Church jumpstarted donations with a $10,000 check.

The “citizenry of Memphis” is being called upon to fund the new 901 Witness Relocation Assistance Program. (Courtesy photo)

“We need contributions from concerned citizens, other churches, businesses and corporations,” said Adkins, who held an early April press conference decrying “record number of murders, homicides, aggravated assaults, interstate shootings and innocent bystander killings.”

The Memphis Shelby Crime Commission will receive earmarked contributions, with checks to be made payable to:

Memphis Crime Commission

RE: 901 WRAP

600 Jefferson Ave. #400

Memphis, TN 38105

Earlier this month, Bill Gibbons, who heads the crime commission and took part in the 901 WRAP unveiling, used an op-ed opportunity to put the spike in local gun crime in this numerical context:

“Through May 31 of this year, Memphis had 98 reported murders, up 10% from the same time period last year. The Memphis Police Department indicates that 91% of those murders were committed with guns.

“Nine of the murder victims so far this year were children. Of the 98 victims, approximately 90% were Black, 5% white, and 5% other.”

The move to 901 WRAP would, seemingly, bring additional linkage between the Shelby County Attorney General’s Office, the Memphis Crime Commission, Memphis Police Department (MPD), the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, the Tennessee High Patrol and other “involved citizens.”

Adkins said a conversation with MPD Lt. Thurman Richardson keyed him to the “major problem” of a “lack of witnesses willing to testify in court … . Threats and intimidation are constant in some of our neighborhoods by the very people who commit the crimes.”

Richardson told him of a California program that offers witness relocation.

How many cases go unsolved because of uncooperative witnesses?

“It’s hard to measure a negative,” said Shelby County District Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich, noting that the problem is an everyday issue at her office.

“We don’t know what we don’t know. … I would think that a large percentage of our unsolved homicides would fall into that mix of somebody knows something, somebody saw something and they are either unwilling or unable to pick up that phone and share that information.”

Roughly 40 percent of the homicides in Memphis this year are currently unsolved. “The question becomes what percentage of those are unsolved because of fear from a witness,” said MPD Assistant Police Chief Don Crowe, adding that the percentage is “unmeasurable” at this point.

New Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis said MPD has “a great clearance rate” every year. However, even if 60 or 65 percent of the cases are cleared, she said, the other unsolved cases “could potentially be because someone was intimidated or there are other reasons; even injured sometimes by individuals that are still out and roaming about. …

“Our officers do a lot of work to try to solve cases,” Davis said. “This is a great opportunity for individuals to feel safe during the adjudication process. And, hopefully, it is a short-term relocation. I think that is what the aim would be. That it would be short term in those immediate days and hours after an incident has occurred and they are in a safe place.”

Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. echoed the need for wide scale participation. “We’re calling on all Memphians, all business leaders. Please, be a part of this. Help us to help make Memphis a safer community.”

Buddy Chapman, who directs Memphis Crime Stoppers, noted that he has maintained since his days as MPD director that, “Crime is not a police problem; crime is a community problem. And a community will only suffer from crime as much as it is willing to do so.”

Tipsters, who report crimes can now receive up to $2,000, a recent doubling of the $1,000 payout “in attempt to get more people to call,” Chapman said.

“I am somewhat concerned that our calls have dropped off over the last few months. I think a part of that is the COVID issue; people aren’t out and they aren’t hearing. But I would urge anyone who knows anything, anyone who sees anything, anyone who knows where someone is hiding, call 528-CASH.”

Witness relocation already is done on a small-scale, as-needed, almost crisis basis, said Weirich. “We don’t have a pool of money set aside in the DA’s budget, the sheriff’s budget or the police director’s budget for this type of victims service. …

“But if the resources are there and depending upon the case and the seriousness of it, the level of threat, we will have to make those determinations in terms of length of relocation and the amount of assistance we are able to provide.”

Factoring for the typical number of cases handled in a year and instances in which the need for witness relocation has become an issue, Weirich said, “our best guess” is that “a couple of dozen times a year we would need to dip into this fund and take advantage of it for victims and witnesses.”

Adkins emphasized that 901 WRAP is envisioned as about more than relocating witnesses.

“We can strike a blow against violent crime in Memphis by way of this (901 WRAP) initiative,” the Rev. Bill Adkins said. “There are citizens that are willing to testify in court. We want to help them. Your financial contributions are needed to keep this program viable.” (Courtesy photo)

“We are going to give them a jumpstart in life,” he said, “from a community they are leaving to a better community to live; better schools, better neighborhoods. We are going to provide programs of assistance to help them get that better start; to make things uncomplicated in their life.

“We’re gonna help these people who are willing to help us. People who are willing to testify in our courts deserve our support and we want to support them on many levels.”