Public safety was the centerpiece of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s first-ever State of the City address, which he delivered Thursday in Frayser.
Strickland, a former Memphis City Council member, was sworn in on New Year’s Day of 2016 after defeating incumbent Mayor A C Wharton in 2015.
On Thursday, he gave a long report of positive things happening in Memphis. Many of those included accomplishments made by his administration in its first year, things like shorter 911 answer times, more paved streets, and a stable fiscal situation for the city.
But, of course, he said public safety remains the largest challenge for the city.
“No question about it, the most important role for city government is providing for public safety,” Strickland said at the weekly meeting of the Frayser Exchange Club. “The steps that we’re describing today will further strengthen the city’s commitment.”
Strickland reported that while property crime was down slightly last year, violent crime rose 3.2 percent and the number of homicides peaked.
To remedy that, Strickland wants more police officers in the Memphis Police Department. The number of MPD officers was around 2,400 in the late 2000s and that number has dwindled to just more than 1,900 today.
Here’s what Strickland reported on the police staffing situation:
• 2,000 applied for the police academy last year, 500 has been a longtime average
• 31 recruits will join the force immediately after graduating the academy this week
• A new class of about 100 recruits begins in September
• From 2008 to 2011, 728 police officers graduated from the academy.
• From 2012 to 2015, 162 graduated.
• None graduated in 2014.
• In the next year, MPD will have a net increase in officers for the time in six years.
Violent crimes bureau
Strickland said MPD director Michael Rallings has recently launched a violent crimes bureau to provide a more focused investigation of serious crimes. The unit will find and arrest violent and repeat offenders.
901 BLOC Squad
MPD will double its efforts with the street-level gang intervention unit called the 901 BLOC Squad. Since the program lunched in Frayser a few years ago, Strickland said there has been a 32 percent reduction in youth violence in Frayser. The program will soon be rolled out in Orange Mound and the Mt. Moriah corridor.