City Reporter 

City Reporter

The Root Of the Problem

Police director's plan hopes to stop crime before it starts.

by Janel Davis

Memphis police director Walter Crews is saying "enough is enough" when it comes to juvenile crime and crimes against children in Memphis. In the past few months, a number of children have been unintentionally killed by an adult trying to kill another adult, in drive-by shootings or by abuse. To combat these problems, Crews has released plans for a new juvenile-crime abatement program.

"I think it is high time we put all our resources together to stop these crimes," says Crews.

The plan will be overseen by Dr. Rita Dorsey, the commander of the police-training academy, a criminologist, and a community leader. Dorsey will lead a small staff and steering committee to design the program.

"I always feel encouraged when we are going to do things to help children and provide a positive living environment for them," says Dorsey. "The program will only be successful if people come out and do their part because [the plan] is not dependent on me or the committee but on the individuals in various neighborhoods who want these activities to work."

The plan will have a three-pronged approach -- prevention, education, and intervention -- to deter juveniles from committing criminal acts and teach them how to avoid becoming victims. Crews foresees a variety of services, including frustration-management training, safe houses for youth fleeing from parental or guardian abuse, and classes for children living with abusive parents.

Dorsey says this initiative will be different from other juvenile programs in the city because the plan will work with existing programs.

"One problem in this city is that we have a plethora of social agencies and faith-based initiatives, but we don't coordinate [them]. There is no program here; we are a catalyst for things already there. Maybe one of the things we can do is be a clearinghouse or referral group so this can be sort of a brushfire," says Dorsey. "That's the way I see the plan -- starting small in a neighborhood or two, hopefully replicate it, and then it will catch fire across the city."

"Why reinvent the wheel?" she continues. "We have all of these groups that can do a good job, but we now need to get away from or use the formalized services a little differently and do some things that are closer to home."

Dorsey's main focus will be youth who have already been through the juvenile-justice system and neighborhood residents who provide community activities that discourage criminal behavior.

Crews hopes to finance the plan with grants and private donations as well as government funds.

A Law With Teeth

New law makes animal cruelty a felony.

By Bianca Phillips

Cruelty to animals is now punishable as a Class E felony on the second offense in Tennessee as of July 15th, when the new law was signed into effect by Governor Don Sundquist.

The law, sponsored by state Senator Steve Cohen (D-Memphis), differs from the state's previous animal-cruelty laws in that it contains the felony provision. Previously, animal cruelty was only punishable as a Class A misdemeanor. Tennessee joins 33 other states and the District of Columbia in imposing felony-level penalties.

On the first offense, the Class A misdemeanor still applies, which is punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $2,500. Second-time offenders will be charged with a Class E felony, which can be punishable by imprisonment of one to six years. Subsequent violations will also result in Class E felonies.

"Animal cruelty may be a precursor to the torturing of people. Robert Friedman's alleged murderer supposedly stabbed and killed his dog," says Cohen, referring to the recent shooting of a prominent attorney in a downtown Memphis parking garage. "These are not harmless acts against a piece of property. Animals have feelings too."

Animal cruelty is defined as the depraved and sadistic torture or maiming of an animal and only applies to nonlivestock companion animals. It does, however, include animals commonly thought of as livestock, such as ducks or pot-bellied pigs, that are cared for as pets. The law does not affect lawful hunting, trapping, fishing, or butchering for food.

The bill has been held up in a House of Representatives agriculture committee for two years due to concerns that the law would be misapplied to farm animals. Opponents argued that some common farming practices, such as shoeing draft animals, could be considered animal cruelty. The committee had concerns about the possibility of farmers being charged with felonies.

The law does not apply to humane euthanasia of animals, accepted veterinary practices, bona fide scientific testing, dispatching of diseased animals, or use of animal-training methods and equipment.

"We're very pleased that serious animal abuse can now be treated as a serious crime. This kind of legislation is long overdue," says Donna Malone, vice president of Responsible Animal Owners of Tennessee. "One case we know of, in which a dog's head was allegedly cut off with a steak knife, was horrible. We found it truly tragic that there were no laws to address, much less punish, that level of abuse."

Power Play

Under a revised TVA contract, MLGW frees itself up for a changing energy market.

By Mary Cashiola

Like a beginner at a yoga class, Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) has been working on flexibility.

With an eye toward the future energy market, MLGW approved a renegotiated contract with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) last week. The contract gives the public utility the right to terminate the contract with five years' notice. It also puts rate control back into the hands of city lawmakers and the MLGW board.

"[The contract] is an effort to reduce our risk of future price spikes and give ourselves more flexibility in the future, based on wherever electric restructuring and the energy markets go," says Mark Winfield, MLGW external affairs officer and assistant to the president.

With electric restructuring dominating the future, the new contract allows MLGW to shop around for the lowest energy price and to switch energy suppliers without incurring any financial penalties. In the previous contract, MLGW had to give TVA 10 years' notice and faced over $1 billion in costs associated with termination fees.

"It's a significant difference," says Winfield. "You cannot get people to give you a bid for power 10 years out because the market conditions change so much. You can for five years."

Winfield says the utility does not have any other energy suppliers it's looking to buy from but wanted to make sure it had the option. It also wanted to have the option of setting its own rates. Under the existing contract from 1984, TVA had to approve all the rates and the conditions that applied to them.

"Even though we report to our board and the city council, the ultimate authority over our rates rested with TVA. They could order rate changes over the objections of all our regulatory authorities," says Winfield. "We feel that the citizens of Memphis, through their elected officials, should be the ones to control these types of things."

TVA, which is the sole energy supplier to 158 utility companies, would give a template of rates to MLGW, which would have to follow them by federal law. Under the new contract, TVA has waived its right to rate control.

"I think part of it is that, as the electric market matures, our customers ask for a lot of things they've never asked for before. The one-size-fits-all model that TVA has operated under for so long just doesn't work anymore," says Winfield. "We didn't have the flexibility to do any type of rate structure that wasn't given to us by TVA."

Winfield cites off-peak electricity use by industrial consumers and lower rates for those time periods as one example. The utility has been working about five years on these changes, and Winfield says it's not done yet. Now that this contract has been approved, MLGW is concentrating on three areas of its relationship with TVA.

"We want the option to buy from other people besides TVA. Right now, you either buy 100 percent of your power from TVA or you buy zero," says Winfield. Instead, MLGW wants partial requirements in the contract, the option to buy a percentage of its power from TVA and the rest from other providers. MLGW also want rights to TVA's transmission grid and to see a bigger investment in Memphis by TVA.

"Memphis does not benefit nearly as much from the TVA presence as East Tennessee does," says Winfield. "For example, for every dollar that Chattanooga rate-payers spend in power costs to TVA, they get 70 cents back in salaries of TVA employees in Chattanooga. We get one-and-a-half percent. We think that whoever our power supplier is has to be more involved in our community."


Last week's City Reporter story "MATA vs. Madison" reported that Vanessa Jones is marketing director of the Memphis Area Transit Authority. Alison Burton is MATA's marketing director. We regret the error.

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