The recent arrest of two Memphis police officers is the latest in the department's Operation Tarnished Blue investigation. MPD has been working in conjunction with the FBI for more than six months to catch what it terms "rogue" cops. These latest arrests, the 18th and 19th of the operation, were perhaps the most conspicuous yet. One of the officers, Terrance Harris, bought a Humvee, a Corvette, and a large home in Southaven and made more than $800,000 in deposits in a little over a year. The Flyer sat down with MPD director Larry Godwin to discuss the department's struggle with dirty cops. -- By Ben Popper
Flyer: How does Memphis compare with other cities in terms of police corruption?
Godwin: Let me put it this way: I don't view it as police corruption. I view it as rogue cops, because to me, if there is corruption, it goes all the way to the top. And it's not in this office, I can assure you. I'm the one who initiated this investigation. What we're dealing with is less than 0.5 percent of the force who bring embarrassment to the other 99.5 percent of police officers who are doing their job.
So Internal Affairs is a necessary part of a healthy police department?
We have an internal squad that handles policy violations. Then we have a security squad, which handles criminal. We took seasoned investigators for the security squad: someone from homicide, burglary, economic crimes, etc. Let me tell you something else -- they all volunteered.
Was the squad formed in response to bad press?
No. We used to have a security squad and a separate internal department. A few years back, due to shortage of manpower, they combined the security and the internal squads. Not that the internal side lets info out, but they are investigating a totally different problem.
The "Blue Wall" of silence, the notion that officers would never tell on each other, is often depicted on television and in films.
That's movies. These two officers acted alone. One made a statement to the effect that you don't want anyone else involved because they'll get you caught. There is not an officer in this department who wouldn't turn them in. I would not tolerate a code of silence, and the embarrassment the other officers [feel] when this happens tells me that [they aren't covering for each other].
In your 33 years on the force, what experiences have you had with officers who bent the law?
I haven't, because I never investigated them. I've had officers who worked for me who were caught up in it. I think you can work with somebody and look at their evaluation, see them coming to work every day, and think they're a good cop. Then when they're off, they are using the uniform in a different way. There are a lot of police officers who are married; they drive SUVs; and they are in debt to the hilt. So you don't always know.