Driving under the influence, aggravated assault, rape, and murder are among the offenses law enforcement are paid to police. Ironically, these very crimes are amid the illegal acts some Memphis officers have been arrested for since last year.
In 2014, 18 officers from the Memphis Police Department (MPD) were arrested. As of April 2nd, there have been four officers apprehended this year for offenses such as sexual exploitation of a minor and driving under the influence.
"We are held to a higher standard because we took an oath to protect and serve, but, by the same token, our officers are treated just like any other citizen who breaks the law," said MPD spokeswoman Alyssa Macon-Moore. "We're no different. When we do things that are outside of the perimeters of the law, we must suffer the consequences."
Memphis United, a coalition of local grassroots organizations and residents against structural and institutional racism, organized the "Bad Apples? FixTheBarrel" rally last Wednesday at the intersection of Lamar and Airways. People waved signs and protested in support of efforts to hold law enforcement more accountable.
The primary approach to help accomplish this goal would be through an amendment of the city's Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) ordinance. The revision would provide CLERB with the power to subpoena documents and police witnesses, investigate complaints concurrently with the Memphis Police Internal Affairs department, and make disciplinary recommendations to the Memphis Police director, among other authoritative acts. The Memphis City Council's Personnel Committee will discuss the amendment at its next meeting on April 21st.
Paul Garner led the rally at the intersection of Lamar and Airways. He spoke through a bullhorn at passersby about the importance of police accountability and the need to reinstate CLERB.
"There needs to be a system in place where when people file complaints, it's tracked and available to the public, and we catch these things before something serious happens," said Garner, organizing coordinator for the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center (MSPJC). "Some of these guys have multiple complaints filed against them, and if there was a civilian oversight body that had the power to gather that information at the time those complaints were filed, red flags would have gone up and something could have been done before we had a case of rape or sexual assault or domestic violence."
Last Tuesday, a day before the "Bad Apples" rally, a panel was held at Christian Brothers University to inform the public of CLERB's origin and how its modification would benefit the city. The panelists included members of CLERB and MSPJC.
During the event, an attendee asked if CLERB would have the ability to demand punishment of officers who unlawfully shoot and kill civilians.
Brad Watkins, executive director of the MSPJC, informed the questioner that CLERB would not investigate criminal matters and "is not the answer to our problems."
For significant progress to be made, Watkins said, in addition to CLERB, there needs to be a confidential counseling program for Memphis Police officers as well as replacement of leadership in the MPD and at City Hall.
"We have to have a complete change in the culture of MPD," Watkins said. "Not only the culture of MPD and how it relates to its citizens, but the institution of MPD and its relationship to the psychological health of the officers themselves. Without these things, we'll only have further harassment and violence in our community. The MPD has to be accountable, open to the public, and [responsive] before there's a murder and a protest — not constantly playing catch-up afterwards with token gestures that don't change the reality of people's lives."