Memphis Council talks remedies for crime

By: - September 13, 2022 7:57 pm
A 2019 Memphis City Council meeting. (Photo: City of Memphis)

A 2019 Memphis City Council meeting. (Photo: City of Memphis)

Following nearly two weeks of violent crime, Memphis City Council members discussed action to dampen further violent surges, especially among juveniles. 

On Sept. 2, Eliza Fletcher, a teacher, took an early morning jog near the University of Memphis and was kidnapped. An intense hunt ended when the suspect, Cleotha Henderson, was apprehended. Fletcher’s body was later found near a vacant duplex.  Memphians had little time to recover when 19-year-old Ezekiel Kelly went on shooting spree days later, resulting in seven victims, with four dead. 

“Wednesday night was nothing short of a terrorist attack,” said Councilmember Frank Colvett, Jr. 

In response, the Memphis City Council passed a resolution requesting assistance from the State Highway Patrol and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office for surveillance of major intersections. Doing so would allow Memphis police officers to increase patrol of the city.

“We need some immediate relief, and they need some immediate assistance,” said Councilmember Rhonda Logan. 

On Tuesday, Memphis council members and the Memphis Police Department met to discuss the city’s surge in crime this month, especially among youth. There were 5,342 crimes reported in August compared to 4,636 reported in August 2021 — a 15% increase. 

"We need some immediate relief," said Memphis Councilmember Rhonda Logan. (Photo: City of Memphis)
“We need some immediate relief,” said Memphis Councilmember Rhonda Logan. (Photo: City of Memphis)

“Where are we to show that we will not succumb to these violent offenders and turn our streets over to criminals and violence?” asked councilmember Chase Carlisle.

During a city council Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee meeting, the Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis reported that the top four crimes in August were theft from motor vehicles, auto theft, shoplifting and aggravated assault, and 15 to 19-year-olds were responsible for most car theft. 

When asked about how to address violence and crime among youths, Davis explained that “there are no holistic approaches to addressing juvenile delinquency,” and the matter is complicated by a staffing shortage. 

The Memphis Police Department is staffed by around 1,900 police officers, with the MPD aiming to reach a goal of 2,500. There are currently 96 recruits in training.

“This might be historically one of the largest classes the Memphis Police Department has seen graduating at one time,” said Davis.

But the department needs help, she added. 

“I don’t know another city in Tennessee that is in need of greater resources than Memphis but the burden rests on Memphis police officers,” she said, adding that there are four officers dedicated to violence intervention 

And while there is a need for police officers, Memphis officials also discussed early intervention and prevention since both Kelly and Henderson had previously been charged with violent crimes. During an active investigation into Fletcher’s murder, Henderson’s DNA was also linked to a 2021 rape charge.   

Council members asked  Davis about how the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation processes rape kits, which includes clothes, biological evidence, photographs and other items related to sexual assault.

The Memphis Police Department submitted around 300 to 400 rape kits to the TBI, and rush requests require the signature of the district attorney and an explanation as to why the requests meet criteria.  While alleged rapes are investigated thoroughly by the MPD, “we’re just one cog in the wheel,” said Davis.

“The TBI takes not just our rape kit evidence, they take in all of our forensic evidence, and we’re basically in line with the rest of the state waiting to receive these results,” she said. 

Council members also discussed violence prevention among young offenders.

According to the Memphis Chief Operating Officer, Doug McGowen, the city’s Group Violence Intervention Program and staff aim to conduct a comprehensive assessment on drivers of crime. Staff also conduct a shooting review each week to predict where and who is likely to retaliate violently. 

“The message is that the shooting has to stop and here are the alternatives for you if it doesn’t. Here are the alternatives for you if it does,” he said. In addressing crime among youth, Councilmember Rhonda Logan also introduced a resolution during the committee meeting asking the MPD to enforce curfews for teenagers.  The resolution also requests penalties for curfew violations.

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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.