Memphis is facing unprecedented challenges in the crime and public safety arena. While the violent crime rate has declined over the past year (despite some horrible recent acts of violence), overall crime is up and property crime rates are skyrocketing. The prevalence of gun violence incidents, car thefts and carjackings – many committed by youth offenders – has been termed a “crime pandemic” in recent months. Bottom line: Memphians do not feel safe in their city.
At the same time, the City’s efforts to aggressively fight crime has led to some tragic consequences. The death of Tyre Nichols revealed deep flaws in the structure and culture of some specialized police units. Moreover, there continues to be a significant shortage of police officers, including supervisors. As a result, trust and confidence in law enforcement has eroded significantly, especially among the Black community.
JW Gibson grew up in public housing at a time when there was significantly less gun violence and even in low-income neighborhoods, families felt safer in their homes. Through his work in South Memphis and other neighborhoods, he has seen first hand how crime and fear of it negatively impacts quality of life for residents and reduces community engagement.
JW believes that finding the right balance between fighting crime, implementing youth intervention programs and effective police practices will take intense collaboration between the mayor, the police department, and other stakeholders – along with guidance and best practices from state and national partners. Essential to that work will be rebuilding trust between the public and law enforcement so the latter is seen as fulfilling its mission to provide a safe environment for the citizens of Memphis.
"Memphis deserves to feel safe.”
- JW Gibson
Here is a partial list of JW Gibson’s crime
and public safety strategies:
Build effective and transparent policing practices that rebuild trust between the police department and the community.
Review and reform the policies governing specialized policing units to include greater supervision as well as more disciplinary file review and psychological testing before officers are assigned to these specialized units.
Work with external partners – such as the Department of Justice, International Association of Chiefs of Police, etc. – on assessments and policy reviews that are conducted regularly, not just in the wake of a crisis.
Expand training programs to include more robust training for first line supervisors that is designed to address bias, racial profiling, simulated real life endangerment situations, crisis intervention, and de-escalation strategies.
Review MPD’s community-based strategies, such as Neighborhood Watch, the COPs program, etc., and expand those that are most effective.
Hold monthly town hall meetings each month outside the precinct while at the same time creating opportunities for community members to feel comfortable coming to their police station.
Take a multi-pronged approach to addressing staffing needs.
Examine and adjust the criteria for recruiting and hiring new officers, to cast a wide net while ensuring officer quality.
Explore additional recruitment and hiring incentives, such as increased moving expenses, expansion of the take-home car policy, a one-time bonus for officers who completed their one-year probation, and expanded homeownership assistance programs.
Recruit more civilian staff and PSTs to fill positions, as appropriate, that would free up officers for law enforcement.
Work closely with the Memphis Police Association and the Afro American Police Association to strengthen officer morale and increase retention.
Strengthen MPD operations and community crime-fighting capacity.
Invest in needed technology upgrades, such as additional blue light cameras and an online reporting system, as well as updates to the auto fleet.
Expand the partnerships with the District Attorney’s office and Juvenile Court to all precincts – to speed up prosecution and be a liaison to officers and residents in the surrounding neighborhood.
Work with nonprofit partners to expand the Safeways program, which reduces crime in apartment communities.
Provide support from MPD and other City divisions to the Crime Commission’s Safe Community Action Plan.
Collaborate with partners on effective, community-driven strategies to combat gun violence - particularly that committed by youth.
Support the work of Memphis Allies, a multi-faceted initiative focused on the intervention and prevention of gun violence. The Memphis Allies model combines street outreach and life coaching with clinical services and case management.
Support and help align existing work that addresses youth gun violence and incarceration, including organizations addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Work with Shelby County to support the construction of a new juvenile detention center in Memphis, where incarcerated youth are provided with wrap-around services and job training.