Memphis Police director Toney Armstrong responded to the Flyer today about a rumor that the MPD's undercover unit is being eliminated. Other news organizations had reported that anonymous sources were told in an undercover unit meeting on Monday that the new director was doing away with the unit.
But Armstrong said the unit is simply being restructured, and some undercover officers are being shifted around because those officers have reached the end of their assignment. Since taking office, Armstrong has relocated former director Larry Godwin's son Anthony to Union Station, undercover officer April Leatherwood to Raines Station, among other staff changes. Here's what Armstrong had to say today:
What's really going on with the undercover unit?
We are doing some restructuring. Some of the undercover operatives have come to the end of their assignments, and it's time for them to be re-assigned.
How long is a typical undercover assignment?
It varies from one to two years. It could also depend on what investigation he or she is involved in. The operatives being transferred out of Organized Crime weren't in any investigations [that were underway].
Where are those officers going?
They're going back to uniform patrol. None of them have actually been in a squad car or worked in a uniform patrol capacity. We felt that it would be best for them to go and get some remedial training before we went and put them on the street.
Will the restructured undercover unit be smaller than it was before?
We never release any numbers in regard to our undercover unit because of the confidentiality of it. We've never made it public as to how many officers are located there, and we won't make it public as to how many officers are going to replace uniform patrol. Most importantly, Organized Crime is still up and running, and we still have an undercover program, but it's just that some of the officers we had over there have reached the end of their assignment.
Will the council's decision to cut funding from the budget for police hiring have any effect on hiring new undercover officers?
We have just been delaying hiring for awhile, but that won't have an adverse impact on what we're attempting to do.
Is the restructuring related to the ongoing FBI audit of the Organized Crime Unit?
No, the audit has nothing to do with the restructuring.
This is part of what we do. We get new officers in, preferably young officers that we put into an undercover capacity. At the conclusion of that assignment, they are mandated to go back to uniform patrol because they have never worked in that capacity at all. I know some people are looking at this as a negative thing, like he's doing this and he's sending them there. They had to go back to uniform patrol.
Because of all the stresses that go along with undercover, there is a recommended time of one to two years of keeping someone in that capacity. It's hard on the family and the officers. It's stressful, but they are getting all the psychological counseling that they need prior to going back to uniform patrol.