Safety & Justice

Submitted by Operation: Safe Community and Just City

According to a variety of public opinion polls and surveys, criminal justice and public safety are among the most pressing and urgent concerns of most citizens in the greater Memphis area. Crime -- and perceptions of it, whether accurate or inaccurate -- can deter or frustrate a range of public and private investments, affecting the quality of our schools, the success of our economic development efforts, and a variety of other critical public health and livability factors. Inconsistent reporting standards among government agencies make it extremely difficult to get a full and honest portrait of public safety in the Memphis metro area at any given time, but generally speaking, crime rates are improving over the last several years. However, rates of some crimes, such as gun violence and domestic violence, remain unacceptably high. In September 2015, for example, Memphis moved from #3 to #2 on the FBI's list of "Most Dangerous Cities" in 2015, even though crime overall fell during the preceding 12 months. 

Public safety is an area of intense investment by taxpayers, consuming approximately 40% of the City of Memphis' budget. A series of reforms to city employee pensions and health benefits approved by the Memphis City Council in 2014 is cited as a reason for a sharp decrease in the number of uniformed officers, of which there are currently approximately 2,100. Finding ways to sustainably decrease crime rates in neighborhoods throughout Memphis, while respecting the civil rights of the accused -- particularly juveniles of color --  remains a critical for many nonprofit organizations, law enforcement agencies, and other private and public sector partners.

Operation: Safe Community (OSC) is an historic and ambitious crime reduction initiative spearheaded by top government, criminal justice, and business leaders in partnership with schools, citizens, and faith and community-based organizations. It is a component of Memphis Fast Forward, a comprehensive plan of action to accelerate economic prosperity and quality of life in Memphis and Shelby County.

The Memphis/Shelby Crime Commission (MSCC) is the lead agency for advancing OSC. With  a Board of 50 members, 25 private sector and 25 public sector, MSCC addresses difficult issues that expand partnerships and address systematic change. In addition, MSCC provides increase visibility by participating in the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, producing and sharing crime data, creating strong community relations, and releasing news regarding the progress of OSC.  

Launched in late 2006, OSC created a plan with 15 research-backed, data-driven strategies for how law enforcement – both by itself and in specific types of strategic community partnerships – can make a meaningful dent in crime. The goal was quite simple: to make Memphis-Shelby County one of the safest communities of its size in the nation by 2011. It was an ambitious – some thought audacious - goal, and while it was not fully realized, Memphis and Shelby County can celebrate a dramatic and momentous reduction of major violent crime (down 23%) and major property crime (down 26%).

On the heels of such success and momentum, the leadership team has built a plan for the next five years that is arguably better than the first. The new plan calls for maintaining laser-like focus on data-driven policing with MPD’s Blue C.R.U.S.H., widely acknowledged as the major contributor to the crime reductions to date. But it also establishes a special new focus on youth violence prevention and intervention, with strategies having been developed through a unique partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Further, the plan emphasizes cooperation and integration with other major strategic plans and initiatives throughout Memphis and Shelby County. While it seems sometimes that there are announcements of new major initiatives every month, OSC is committed to proactively ensuring coordination with other major initiatives to avoid duplication of effort and to leverage new resources where they are available.

For example, OSC has aligned with State of Tennessee Public Safety Action Plan, Defending Childhood Initiative, Choice Neighborhoods, and Community LIFT, and the Mayor’s Institute for Excellence in Government, among others, to achieve maximum impact implementing the strategies of the plan.

As with any good strategic plan, this one will evolve. Much has been learned from this work over the past nine years. The partners are committed to continued learning and to embracing new partners and opportunities as they surface, and to dropping initiatives that are not having the anticipated impact.

The following outlines the goals and strategies created by Operation: Safe Community:

GOAL ONE: REDUCE VIOLENCE IN THE HOME

  • Strategy 1 – Strengthen laws against repeat domestic violence offenders and improve court procedures and practices to better support victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

  • Strategy 2– Expand legal, housing, counseling, and other services to victims of domestic violence to help avoid repeat victimization.

  • Strategy 3 – Increase awareness and reporting of child abuse and neglect.

  • Strategy 4 – Establish a coordinated community response to elder abuse and maltreatment.

GOAL TWO: REDUCE GANG AND DRUG CRIME

  • Strategy 5 – Establish a multi-agency metro gang unit for a coordinated, focused and data-driven effort to reduce gang violence.

  • Strategy 6 – Maintain and strengthen the multi-agency model for a coordinated and focused effort to reduce specific types of crime, much of which is gang-related.

  • Strategy 7 – Expand use of and strengthen Tennessee law to tackle illegal criminal gang activity.

GOAL THREE: REDUCE BLIGHT, PROBLEM PROPERTIES AND CRIMES IN APARTMENT COMPLEXES

  • Strategy 8 – Expand the Safeways model and other site-based social services programming to “hot spot” apartment complexes throughout Memphis and Shelby County.

  • Strategy 9 – Reduce blight systematically throughout the City of Memphis.

  • Strategy 10 – Expand use of state and local laws to reduce problem properties and blight.

GOAL FOUR: REDUCE ADULT REPEAT OFFENSES

  • Strategy 11 – Coordinate support services “under one roof” for adult (18+ yrs.) inmates returning to the community from incarceration.

  • Strategy 12 – Establish other innovative partnerships among government agencies that use existing staff, data and resources to achieve better recidivism results.

  • Strategy 13 – Expand access to drug court treatment for felony defendants with serious drug addictions.

GOAL FIVE: REDUCE YOUTH VIOLENCE

  • Strategy 14 – Enroll more children in high quality prenatal and early learning programs.

  • Strategy 15 – Expand neighborhood-based youth services provided by community and faith organizations.

  • Strategy 16 – Ensure youth violence prevention is a priority for all major neighborhood revitalization initiatives.

  • Strategy 17 – Implement county government’s Defending Childhood Initiative (DCI) to help ensure young victims of exposure to violence are nurtured so as not to become perpetrators.

  • Strategy 18 – Expand case-managed wrap-around services (e.g. mentoring, mental health counseling, afterschool programming, job training and placement, etc.) for troubled youth involved in Juvenile Court, youth known to be gang-involved, or for students most at risk of suspension, expulsion, or criminal offense.

  • Strategy 19 – Require suspended students to attend alternative schools.

  • Strategy 20 – Intensify targeted patrols in areas with high rates of youth crime.

  • Strategy 21 – Involve law enforcement more actively in youth violence prevention and intervention efforts.

  • Strategy 22 – Expand community-based policing.

  • Strategy 23 – Expand graduated sanctions that balance penalties and accountability with support services.

  • Strategy 24 – Explore additional sentencing options in juvenile justice, with emphasis on what impact such changes would have on public safety, costs, rehabilitation, and recidivism.

  • Strategy 25 – Test the feasibility of establishing prison youthful offender units, at existing facilities, for offenders under age 24 serving sentences in the adult correctional system.

  • Strategy 26 – Increase case-managed, wrap-around services (e.g. mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, education, job training and placement, etc.) for youth returning from incarceration.

Additional Resources

Operation: Safe Community 2014 End of Year Progress Report

Operation: Safe Community 2014 Domestic Violence Strategic Baseline Analysis

Links to Community Empowerment for Frayser Residents