With time of the essence, Memphis City Council members Tuesday (Oct. 24) approved on second reading an ordinance to create a police advisory board to replace the soon-to-be abolished Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB).
A sense of urgency was created earlier Tuesday during the council’s Public Safety & Homeland Security meeting, where it was stressed to members that the window to continue civilian oversight had narrowed significantly.
“You have to pass it today. Otherwise, CLERB no longer exists,” said Antonio Adams, the city’s deputy operating officer and General Service director.
The board is set to expire this month, after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill to prohibit civilian oversight boards in May.
“What we decided to do was to adopt in whole the statute replacing our civilian law enforcement review board, because if we didn’t, the law enforcement review board would sunset,” said Adams. “We wanted to make sure this was replaced. We can continue. This sets your floor with respect to this piece of legislation.”
State law allows for the creation of a seven-member oversight board. The outgoing CLERB board has 13 members. The ordinance is an effort to fit within the new state framework, while still providing many of the same objectives.
It was sponsored by Mayor Jim Strickland.
“It is very specific with regards to the investigative, subpoena powers … It is specific with regard to the composition of the board. It is very specific with regards to recommendations of an executive director, as well,” said Adams.
Established in 1994, CLERB is an independent agency authorized to investigate misconduct alleged in public complaints.
In addition to hearing cases, it can make findings and recommendations of action on complaints.
They range from use of deadly force and injuries incurred while in custody, to police harassment, improper arrests, and inadequate investigations, for example.
However, with the pairing down in members, tough decisions will have to be made, temporarily.
When Mayor-elect Paul Young takes office Jan. 1, he will have his say on who stays, goes, or is introduced as a new member.
Adams said, “With regard to the current board and the current mayor, we will allow the current board to kind of subselect. We will have to go from the current 13 to seven, so that we can continue…until mayor-elect Young decides who will be his seven board members.
“Then, course, that board will be a staggered board. The terms will be one, two and three years.”
Towards the end of the committee discussion, it was asked if former members could still take part in a non-voting capacity.
“This sets your floor. Upon adoption, you can be creative,” said Adams.
The discussion in committee was quickly contrasted by a presentation from the Memphis Police Department leadership.
According to MPD statistics, there were 83 murders over the last three months – a 26 percent increase compared to the same period last year.
Police said that number reflects an overall increase in violent and property crimes reported to police.
From January to the end of September, council members were told, there have been 245 murders, a 36 percent increase compared to the same period last year. That is only two murders short of the number recorded for the entirety of last year.
Officers explained that the numbers relate specifically to murders; and not the overall number of homicides that include murder, negligent manslaughter, and justifiable homicides.
Overall, police said as of Tuesday, 316 homicides had occurred. In 2022, there was a combined total of 302 murders and homicides.
Continuing a trend, car-related property crimes, including auto theft and vehicle break-ins, topped the list. So far, there have been 12,230 car thefts in 2023, compared to 6,963 thefts reported at the same point last year.
Most auto-related crimes are committed by youthful offenders, often under 18-years-old, officers told committee members.
Still, MPD Deputy Chief Joe Oakley, said “We are seeing drops in both of these crimes. We think that’s because of the Kia and Hyundai situation and the thousands of steering wheel locks that we’ve given away, as well as our public meetings. We talk about crime strategies to reduce theft from motor vehicle and auto theft.”
Kia and Hyundai models nationwide are among the most stolen vehicles. The “situation” Oakley mentioned involves a security fix on newer models.
Aggravated assault numbers also continue to rise. Through September, there were 5,724, as opposed to 5,398 in 2022, a 6 percent increase.
“I know that we all have experienced upticks in various crimes, but the Memphis Police Department is really focused on violent crime – not just violent crime as a relates to crimes against persons, but also violent crimes that involve auto theft and also carjackings, and things of that nature,” said MPD Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis.