City Reporter 

City Reporter

Settling In

New police director assesses his first month in office.

By Janel Davis

Newly confirmed Memphis Police Director James Bolden has been on the job only four weeks, but his plans for the department have already been scheduled years down the road.

A round of administrative changes, refurbishment of the Beale Street Police Museum, and an eventual relocation of the police department headquarters are just some of the future moves of the new director. "There will be some changes at the deputy chief level," said Bolden. "Anytime you have to reassign personnel it's not a good time because everybody tends to get comfortable in a position, but we're going to put people in positions where they will be most effective."

Bolden also has yet to name a deputy director.

By 2006, Bolden said, space constraints will lead to the department moving from its current location at 201 Poplar in the Criminal Justice Center back to its former home at 128 Adams. The department was housed at the Adams location until 1982.

In a four-week span which has included state budget cuts, war with Iraq, and Memphis' usual list of criminal activity, Bolden has been busy. Sitting in the office vacated by former director Walter Crews on March 1st, Bolden's nameplate still bears his former position as deputy director, reminding visitors that he is no stranger to the department.

"Having started [here] in 1968, I had no idea that I would advance to the top of the department," said Bolden. "When you reach the top, it says you had a lot of things to go your way."

Since taking office, Bolden has repeatedly promised to make the Memphis Police Department one of the premier agencies in the world. Always a strong supporter of Crews, Bolden credits his predecessor with laying an admirable foundation for the department. In addition to carrying out Crews' juvenile-crime abatement initiatives, Bolden's priorities include combating handgun violence and burglaries. He also plans to provide citizens with better neighborhood services and reemphasize strong community policing, an idea he helped transform into the Citizens' Police Academy in 1994.

"Since I began with the department, the city has gotten larger. Suburban areas are no longer immune to certain types of crimes," said Bolden. "Because of that, policing the city has to be a total community process. The police can't be everywhere all the time." Bolden also serves as president of the Memphis metro area association of police chiefs, which works to combat city- and suburbwide criminal activity, including property theft and vandalism.

As part of the new director's ongoing plan, the department's accreditation process has entered its second of five phases. The process, which began in December, is scheduled for completion in 18 months to two years and is awarded in three-year increments.

The director from the small town of Somerville, whose entire population is 2,900, is now in charge of a city of more than 650,000. "[The police department] is like a Fortune 500 company, and the person at the top has to be more than a law-enforcement officer wearing a badge," he said. "They also have to be an astute business person to run a department of this size."


Amber Alert Delay

Child-abduction plan awaits testing.

By Janel Davis

The effects of the war with Iraq have trickled down to Tennessee's Statewide Child Abduction Amber Alert test originally scheduled for this week.

The new test date will be April 10th. According to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) officials, the date was changed to avoid the possibility of an Amber Alert being confused with a homeland security threat.

The test comes after the first statewide alert was issued in February, in connection with the death of a 4-year-old Nashville boy and the abduction of his two sisters. That alert ran into problems when broadcast stations treated it as a "civil emergency." TBI special agent Jerri Powell said many of the problems had to do with technology. "All the broadcast stations did not have the equipment to recognize the alert as a child abduction," she said. "All broadcast stations are supposed to have the [equipment] by the summer."

After the initial alert, the TBI, which acts as Tennessee's clearinghouse for child- abduction alerts, and other organizations held a series of meetings to work out the plan's kinks. Powell said they needed to train news directors to receive and disseminate alert information via fax, e-mail, and the Associated Press wire service.

Steve Terry, station manager of WYPL, Shelby County's initial dispatch station for all alerts, said Tennessee's plan is on the right track. "The plan worked flawlessly that night [in February]. TBI set off the alert before the broadcasters had turned on all of their equipment, but the alert went through all the layers. If it had happened a day later, everything would have been fine," he said. "It probably did more good than harm, though, because it brought attention to the fact that Tennessee does have an Amber Alert plan."

In store for Shelby County are electronic notification signs which will be installed along expressways by 2005 as part of a Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) project. Don Dahlinger of TDOT said more than 20 signs will be installed at a cost of $150,000 each. Nashville was the first Tennessee city to receive such signs. Chattanooga will follow Memphis as the state's third city.

Powell said the TBI must still work out ways to broadcast alerts to cable and satellite-television viewers.

"There still needs to be some fine-tuning as to what exactly constitutes an Amber Alert," said Terry. "If there is one major flaw, it's that there is no national standard for the Amber Alert plan." In October, President Bush appointed Amber Alert coordinator Deborah Daniels, assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, to synchronize state plans and develop a national protocol for issuing alerts.

Tennessee's alert plan is modeled on the original Amber Alert begun in Texas in 1996, named for 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted and murdered in the Dallas area.


Block Sale

Five home owners on Mendenhall band together.

By Bianca Phillips

Residents of the Shady Grove area of Mendenhall may soon find themselves neighbors of a church or a large, upscale subdivision, depending on who presents the best offer to a group of home owners who have banded together to sell their combined property.

Five ranch-style houses stand along Mendenhall between Cole and Shady Grove. They all have red and white "For Sale" signs posted in their front yards, and one house also displays a small white sign that reads "Prime Church Site." Each "For Sale" sign carries the same phone number.

The houses have been for sale for nearly a year, and two of the properties are already empty. The remaining three residents, two of them elderly, plan to move in with family members when the houses are finally sold.

"One of the houses was my mother's, but she was too old to live there by herself," said Warner M. Swett III, whose phone number is listed on all the signs. Swett is acting as the contact for interested buyers since the home owners didn't want to deal with buyers directly.

"I had totally revamped that house with a new kitchen, new bathrooms, and it's in perfect living condition. But the other ones aren't really in good condition. The people just got old and never really did anything to them. There's two that could be lived in, but the rest are really tear-downs."

According to Swett, several churches have inquired about the site, but he said the most likely buyer would be a developer with plans of tearing down the houses to build an upscale walled subdivision. According to Swett, any developer would have to get the area rezoned for a subdivision, but if a church moved in, no rezoning would be required.

Although potential buyers have approached Swett about purchasing individual houses to revamp, he said he's had to turn them away. The residents are only interested in selling as a group.

"What we're doing is really trying to protect the older people and make sure they get the true value for their homes in that area," said Swett. "They're tearing down so many of those homes in the back of us and those people are only getting about half of their worth. That's why these people are selling as a group."


Minority Report

PBA appoints Ford to coordinating committee, and other news.

By Mary Cashiola

As part of its five-star plan to maximize minority participation, the Public Building Authority (PBA) released its first weekly minority-participation numbers Friday, documenting more than 25 percent minority participation in overall project contracts.

The report also documented African-American participation at 19.6 percent of all construction and overall project contracts. Construction contracts given to local companies now stand at 79 percent.

The numbers were presented at a lightly attended PBA meeting last week, a far cry from the standing-room-only crowds at previous, and more contentious, meetings.

One of the most outspoken members of the PBA, state Senator John Ford, was also appointed to the coordinating committee of the new NBA arena after complaining in previous weeks that the state had no representation. After the meeting, Ford said he was going to cut out all the nonsense and make sure the process was a fair one.

"It's going to make a big difference," Ford said. "I want to get the inclusion of minority and local participation up to the extent it makes the whole community proud. I don't want [minority business owners] to feel they're being left out of a project of this size and importance. Even if they're wrong, I don't want them to develop the wrong attitude."

Another part of the plan was to add African-American-owned Bricks, Incorporated, to the team overseeing construction of the arena's parking garage and office building.

"The PBA approached us and asked if we would seek out an African-American company to be part of the construction management," said Allen Troshinsky, senior project manager for general contractor M.A. Mortensen. "Bricks has always expressed an interest to be part of the management team on that part of the project. ... Our needs and Bricks' needs were one and the same, and Inman was happy to bring them in."

Mortensen and Inman Construction secured a deal last May for construction management services. Under the new agreement, Bricks will be responsible for 30 percent of the contract.

"Really, any of the three parts of the project -- the office, the site work, and the parking garage -- is a project itself," said Troshinsky. "There are opportunities for each company to act autonomously if they want to do that. We're going to leave the structuring up to them."

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