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.

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