Thursday, July 13, 2017

DOJ Reps Meet with Police Oversight Board

The DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services team met with Memphis’ citizen police oversight board today as part of its collaborative review of the Memphis Police Department.

Three of the five-member COPS crew in Memphis this week then joined the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board for the first half of its monthly meeting.

COPS Supervisor Keenon James
The Department of Justice folks are fairly close-mouthed about any conclusions and opinions they may form prior to publishing a preliminary assessment.

“It will be sometime this fall before we make a report,” said Keenon James, supervisory program specialist with the COPS office.

“We are trying to make sure we give a truly balanced and holistic assessment on things the people need to know,” James said.

When called upon by CLERB chairman Ralph White to introduce themselves, only James spoke, and all he said was:

“We appreciate the opportunity to be here and be involved in the great things going on in the city of Memphis.”  James introduced Diane Reagan and Michael Durden of the COPS office and said “…we are here to see and observe.”

Before meeting with CLERB, the COPS team split up for ride-alongs with MPD patrol officers.  James said there were no dramatic incidents while cruising Memphis streets.  

On Tuesday, three members of the COPS team met with Paul Garner, organizing director at Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, and Meaghan Ybos, founder of People for Enforcement of Rape Laws (PERL).  

CLERB vice-chairman Bruce Kramer told the board his term was up at the end of July and he did not expect to be reappointed by the mayor to serve another term. 

An attorney, Kramer sued the city and MPD on behalf of the ACLU and four individuals for violations of the 1978 consent decree between the Department of Justice and the city over police spying on citizens.

Kramer had said at an earlier meeting that Mayor Jim Strickland’s legal advisor Alan Crone called him and asked him to resign, citing a possible conflict.  The sentiment of CLERB members was then and continues to be strongly in favor of Kramer remaining on the board.

Representatives of the Neely Agency LLC made a presentation of a website for CLERB, which was required by an ordinance that became law in November 2015.  The ordinance requires that CLERB have a website that citizens can use to make complaints against police, see the status of complaints and get other information. 

“We’ve been working with them about this for more than a year,” said Collin Johnson of the Neely PR agency.  “We plan to launch the website Aug. 1.”

CLERB has not made public the terms of the contract with Neely.   This was the first meeting at which anyone from the agency has made a presentation to show a mock-up of the website.  In fact, until today we did not realize that CLERB had retained a PR agency to do a website.   

The city's contract with Neely was executed in April, 2017, after months of talks, and the cost is $14,135, as researched by Fergus Nolan of  We have not seen the scope of work.  Off-hand, the Neely folks seemed capable, and this apparently was a black-owned business contract.  However, this is a steep price for a website, and it better have some high-powered functionality and include much long-term maintenance to come close to justifying the expense.  

A current search of CLERB websites brings up three different websites -- each with inaccurate, outdated and conflicting information.   At the bottom of this post are links to the three websites.  Here is a screenshot of what we believe is the most recent of the three, which states the board consists of nine members (it's 13).  

Strickland confidant and paid advisor Crone – his title is special counsel to the mayor-senior policy advisor -- made his first-ever appearance at a CLERB meeting during the Strickland administration, and he gave a rosy little talk clearly for the benefit of the DOJ-COPS folks.

Sarcasm Alert: This was the most "transparent" that CLERB has ever been with the public and reporters, who have struggled to get minutes of meetings and other documents, as Crone’s game was see-through.  Crone operates a private law practice while receiving a salary of $91,350 from the city during the last fiscal year.

City Council liaison to CLERB Worth Morgan has not attended a meeting since May, 2016, when he was trying to delete CLERB’s limited and convoluted subpoena authority.

The inability of CLERB and its administrator Virgnia Wilson to adhere to the CLERB law and get a website in place is not the only example of CLERB moving at all glacial speed.

The board sustained – agreed with – two citizen complaints in November, those of Paul Garner and Reginald Johnson.  It took them until April to write letters of recommendation to police director Mike Rallings as they are required by ordnance. 

After Rallings rejected their  recommendations, at the May meeting CLERB members agreed to compose followup letters to Rallings with greater elaboration on their decisions.   As of today’s July meeting, those letters are still being kicked around by CLERB members who volunteered to write them, and board members discussed letting each other look at the drafts and make comments before any such missives were actually sent. 

They say no good deed goes unpunished.  Johnson had complained to CLERB that police beat and arrested him after he had called 9-1-1 on behalf of a man who knocked on Johnson’s door late at night and said he had been shot. 

Johnson said police had placed a “hazard” on his house, meaning multiple police officers show up any time there is a call from his residence – even for something as harmless as his daughter calling about an accident report as happened Feb. 20, 2017.

Johnson said he believed it was retaliation on behalf of police for his complaining to CLERB and for making statements to the media about police not investigating the murder of his son Samuel on Oct. 31, 2014.  Johnson asked CLERB to intervene with the police chief to get the designation removed from his home.

“I don’t call police about anything, I’m afraid to,” Johnson said.

The board’s sentiment was supportive of Johnson’s plea.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Police Director Steps Up the PR as DOJ Studies Community Policing in Memphis This Week

The Department of Justice is in Memphis this week.

No, not because of a lawsuit claiming the city of Memphis violated conditions of a 1978 consent decree with DOJ.

No, not because the county is trying to wriggle out of DOJ oversight of its juvenile justice system.
COPS Leader George Fachner Listens to Citizens

It's the Community Oriented Policing Services office of the DOJ digging into Memphis policing practices, almost nine months after the voluntary collaborative review was announced in October.  The COPS folks are meeting with police and city officials and others and are trying to make up time after several apparent delays from the city.

Mid-South Peace and Justice Center and the city's Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board are on DOJ's agenda for meetings this week.  

This comes as Memphis director of police services Mike Rallings has stepped up his public visibility during the past month.

Tuning up for the COPS visit, Rallings on Sunday held a "Community Meeting to Identify Solution Strategies" at Hickory Hill Community Center.  Last night he appeared at the Memphis Association of Black Journalists public forum. 

MPD has launched a Facebook podcast called "Best in Blue," described as the "brainchild" of the police director.  In the first of these, posted July 9, Rallings says he has attended 150 public meetings so far this year.

An example of Rallings' push for community visibility came Saturday June 10 when he made it to four community events -- with a photographer from the public information office in tow to capture photo opportunities and post to the MPD Facebook page.

Shirley Johnson, Rallings, Reginald Johnson, Lt. Col. Sanders
The four events included a "touch a truck" event for kids downtown wherein young people could check out fire trucks, police cars and other emergency equipment; and in Frayser, Reginald Johnson's "Stop the Violence" event in commemoration of his son Samuel, who was the victim of gun violence in 2014 in a case that is unsolved.  

On March 3, the COPS office distributed a release stating that they were discontinuing the review.  It was a cryptic message with no explanation.  Then, the city quickly put out a statement that they were signing an agreement with the DOJ, which omission apparently had led the COPS office to believe Memphis was backing out of the deal to let COPS come in and work with MPD on ways to improve policing in Memphis.

Although the March kerfuffle cleared up the paperwork issue, that was not the end of delays and balking allegedly on the part of the city as other issues have only recently been cleared up so the COPS team from Washington, DC, can sink their teeth into this project.  Our calls requesting an interview with Mayor Jim Strickland have not been returned.  Oops!

George Fachner, team lead for the COPS office review of MPD, and his crew are expected to spend much of the summer in Memphis.  On earlier trips here, they held two public listening sessions and were schooled up on Memphis barbecue, including Central Barbecue, One & Only and more.  

As commendable as it is for police to reach out to the community, many Memphis activists and citizens are not particularly impressed by a PR campaign.  They implore police to act the way they speak in public when they are on the job, out on the street.  

Much conversation has been generated after one year since more than 2,000 citizens marched to the I-40 bridge over the Mississippi River and shut it down for more than five hours.  Local media have been posing the question: 

Has anything changed for the better since then?

For the most part, activists say, no.  

"Things are worse," said Elaine Blanchard, a minister who was named to a political black list put out by MPD and the mayor earlier this year.  

Since the bridge shutdown, the city and police have been the target of three lawsuits which claimed the police 1--barred black citizens from attending the annual candlelight vigil at Graceland on August 15; 2--violated the 1978 DOJ consent decree which forbade police from gathering political intelligence, and 3--conducted political surveillance on minimum wage activists Fight for $15.  

In February a political "black list" -- or "A-List" of activists -- was discovered, having been produced by the police department and approved by Mayor Strickland.  The 57 activists were required to have escorts if they entered the public space of City Hall, police said.  Police later back-tracked and lifted the restriction on citizens.  

Police have massively shown up at public demonstrations -- with SWAT gear, paddy wagons, helicopters, drones, spy cop mobile cameras, a surveillance truck and automatic rifles -- about issues such as protecting water resources, then blamed the protests for increased police overtime.  At a Feb. 21 event held by citizens to spoof the "A-List," police placed a spy cop trailer with cameras in the middle of City Hall plaza, where citizens gathered, and five or six officers were in plain clothes to observe citizens -- this in addition to many uniformed and bike-riding officers ringing the perimeter and a helicopter buzzing about.


On May 31, the COPS office  provided us with its "goals and objectives" for the collaborative review it is conducting with the Memphis Police Department.

Here is a link to their statement of goals and objectives.

COPS outlines three main subject areas: 1--Community oriented policing practices in the department: 2--Use of force and deadly force; 3--Oversight, accountability and transparency. 

Under oversight, accountability and transparency, topping the list is "citizen complaint investigations."  The city revived its Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board in 2015.  While the board has been hearing cases, its existence remains controversial in some quarters -- its own City Council-appointed liaison Worth Morgan publicly said we don't need it -- and police and the police union are perpetual opponents.