First Crush 

Up until a week ago, Given Avenue resident Chris Jefferson was scared to let his kids play outside. But ever since seven houses in his Binghamton neighborhood were boarded up by the Memphis Police Department's (MPD) Blue Crush operation, Jefferson feels a little more secure.

"It's quiet now," said Jefferson, standing on the front porch of his modest home. "It sure ain't like it used to be. You couldn't even stand outdoors."

The closures on Given were the result of months of undercover operations, with MPD officers purchasing crack from individuals in the area on eight occasions. It was the largest Blue Crush bust since the operation's inception a year ago, netting arrests of 50 gang members.

Looking back, MPD director Larry Godwin said he's very pleased with the new method of policing, which targets crime hotspots using data generated by the University of Memphis. The police department began the Blue Crush initiative after splitting from the city-county Metro Gang unit last year.

"When we would do a one-day saturation of arrests, drug buys, and round-ups using the old method of policing, the most arrests we'd make was about 65," said Godwin. "Within the first few hours of our pilot program [in August 2005], we had 62 arrests. By the end of the evening, we had well over 150."

Under the "old method," officers would simply pick a random neighborhood to saturate. With Blue Crush, officers target neighborhoods where a large number of crimes have been reported.

So far this year, Blue Crush has resulted in 24 nuisance closures, 1,171 arrests, and 350 drug indictments. To date, 147 known gang members have been arrested.

When undercover officers make several drug purchases at a particular location, that information is sent to District Attorney Bill Gibbons, who has to prove to the court that the location should be closed under the state's nuisance law.

"Of the cases filed this year, we've had a good enough case every time to convince the court to issue an order pertaining to those properties," said Gibbons.

Then the houses are boarded up, and the drug dealers arrested.

But not everyone shares Jefferson's experience with Blue Crush. Charles Malone lived on Hollyford near the airport before officers arrested his crack-dealer son from the home they shared in July. Now homeless, Malone sits in a chair across from the boarded-up house where he lived for 47 years. He said he wasn't involved in his son's dealings and that he'll stay there until he can get his house back.

But Jennifer Donnals with the D.A.'s office says the house was being used for prostitution and drug sales.

"This was an extreme situation," says Donnals. "We felt if we didn't take steps to close this house, something terrible would happen."

According to MPD spokesperson Monique Martin, innocent victims living in the drug houses are usually allowed to stay.

"[At a closure] on Warren Street, we had an elderly female that was living in the drug house, and we made sure she wasn't put out on the street," says Martin. "She was allowed to stay there, and we follow up with her."

For the most part, neighbors in areas affected by Blue Crush seem pleased with the results.

On Given, a resident who asked to remain anonymous says his neighborhood has gone from "the most dangerous street in Memphis" to an area where he feels safe again.

"They were shooting and selling, and now there's not many cars coming down the street," he says. "There's nobody hanging out down on the street corners."


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