Sipping on a soda at Sleep Out Louie's, downtown resident Mike King leans back in his chair. While King discusses Residents for a Safer Downtown Memphis (RSDM) with fellow RSDM cofounders Paul Ryburn and Robin Poston, he appears relaxed. But he has every reason not to be.
Just a few weeks ago, King left the restaurant around 10: 30 p.m. for a breath of fresh air. He never made it back into the bar that night. "Someone came up behind me and knocked me out. They robbed me of everything I had -- money, credit cards, cell phone," said King, who woke up four hours later in a nearby alley.
These days, King feels a little safer because he, Ryburn, and Poston have taken action. In the weeks following the mugging, they formed RSDM to educate residents and tourists on how to protect themselves and to encourage people to report crime.
So far this year there have been 60 aggravated assaults and 52 individual robberies reported downtown. But King fears more are going unreported.
The day after King was mugged, Ryburn asked him if he'd called the police. "I said no. It was a random act. We don't need another statistic downtown," said King.
After an informal survey of downtown residents and employees, Ryburn and King found that many people were not reporting crimes, for the same reason. RSDM also asked the police department for more officers on foot, since crime often happens out of the sight of patrol cars.
"In the suburbs, a police officer has to use a vehicle because of the distance they have to patrol," said Major Johnny Currin of the downtown police precinct. "Downtown, we think in terms of blocks, and people who live downtown seldom use cars. They walk or ride bikes, so we try to walk and use bicycles as much as we can."
Thefts from vehicles are the number-one crime downtown. To date, 496 cars have been burglarized, an increase of 38 percent compared to this time last year when 370 cars had been burglarized.
RSDM is preparing a brochure for downtown visitors that will include safety tips for securing vehicles. Tips include hiding loose change.
"You drive through Taco Bell and your order is $2.23. You pay with $3, and then you toss the 77 cents into the console," said Ryburn. "If you do that several times, you'll have $3 or $4 in there. To a criminal, that's financing their next bottle or drug purchase." Eventually, Ryburn hopes RDSM will address cruising, but for now, the group's focus is to encourage downtowners to take back their neighborhood.
"I see a common reason why all these crimes are happening down here," said Ryburn. "Criminals do it because they believe they can get away with it. We've got to send a message that this kind of action will not be tolerated anymore."