As I said in my earlier post, Mike King and I, now calling our group Residents for a Safer Downtown Memphis, met with three police officers – Inspector Mhoon and Major Currin from the South Main Substation, and Deputy Chief Cole from the main office – and we could not have been happier with the outcome.
One of the main ideas we proposed was community involvement. We need to educate the community, we explained, to report every crime, every instance of suspicious activity, no matter how small. We need to teach people where the dangerous areas are that need to be avoided. We need to teach the public how to help the police by serving as additional eyes and ears.
The cops LOVED it. “The big problem is, there’s a disconnect between the police and the citizens of downtown,” said Major Currin, who before long asked us to drop the “Major” formality and call him “Johnny.” “With your passion, what you’re proposing is going to close that disconnect. Our joy and happiness occurs when the citizens see what we see.” I could tell that our new friend Johnny was genuinely touched by our commitment to make downtown safe again.
Coming in, we were expecting to hear “no” and to be given the run-around about budget concerns. Not once during the meeting did that happen. One of the requests we made was for more walking patrols at night, especially on the Main Street Mall between Adams and Beale, since there is pedestrian foot traffic coming from apartments, condos and hotels in the area. Within seconds all three of them responded, “That’s a great idea! Yes, I think we can do that! Yes! We love it!”
We then brought up the issue of panhandling. The cops explained that the current laws are not strong enough to chase the panhandlers out of town. If they get arrested, they’re back on the street within hours, and the $50 fine is just a cost of doing business. “But the other initiatives you’re proposing are going to sweep the panhandlers away,” said Deputy Chief Cole. “You walk around downtown and see a panhandler every block? They’re going to start seeing a cop every block.”
We asked them if they knew about the South Main Association meeting tonight at ReMax (500 S. Main) at 6:30, and that Paul Morris will be speaking about panhandling. “We know Paul,” said Inspector Mhoon with a smile. They then discussed it for about five seconds, and Major Currin – Johnny – then said, “I’ll be at that meeting.”
(Mike and I will be at that meeting too. TRIVIA TEAM: This means I won’t make it to the Saucer until about the time the third round starts. Someone else is going to have to get there by 7 to register us, get a scorecard, get our usual seats, etc.)
Not once did they ask that I stop writing about crime downtown on my blog, or on the new Residents for a Safer Downtown Memphis site that hopefully will be up by the end of the week. They did ask us to tell everyone that they’re only a phone call away, at 525-9800 (the South Main Substation number), and if you have crimes or suspicious activity to report downtown you’re welcome to call that number instead of the main non-emergency line. A supervisor is always on duty, and if you don’t feel like you got the response you wanted from the person answering the phone all you have to do is ask for the supervisor.
The officers also pushed the Citizens’ Police Academy as a way to get involved. It’s a 9-week course in which citizens get a first-hand look at all areas of policing, and they also build personal relationships with the officers. Upon graduation citizens are qualified to go on ride-alongs in police cars and have a thorough understanding of how the Department works. I plan on finding a way to arrange my schedule so I can attend a 9-week session, and I know Mike does too and we plan on recruiting a few other key downtowners to go through it with us as well.
The meeting was scheduled for an hour, but lasted over an hour and a half, plus another 20 minutes we spent informally talking to Johnny/Major Currin who walked us to the parking lot. By that time he was already thinking ahead to two months from now, and thinking how good it will feel when we look back and celebrate all the progress we have made.
Overall, we were just flabbergasted by positive MPD was, and how happy they were that we were there, and how willing they were to work with the community. “This is going to be the start of something bigger than either of us realize,” Mike commented later in the day.
I also received an e-mail from the lieutenant in charge of the Entertainment District Unit (EDU), a special unit that patrols downtown from 7 PM to 3 AM. He invited us to come by their HQ and say hello, and I plan on taking him up on that sometime in the next week.
I do want to address one other issue – the subject of cruising on the weekends. Inspector Mhoon told us that they had made over 100 cruising-related arrests and citations last weekend. Trouble is, if there are 13,000 people out cruising, those 100 hardly make a dent. I think the crusing issue is one that is going to have to be dealt with not by the police, but through the City Council and other legislative bodies. Once again, I call on the developers to take the lead. Come downtown on a Saturday night between 10 PM and 3 AM… take a look at what is going on (particularly on Union, Second, Peabody Place, Front, Beale, and Riverside) and ask yourself, would YOU pay $300,000 for that quality of life? If not, help us lobby the City Council to take steps to curb the cruising problem. The existing laws clearly aren’t enough.
Our new organization, Residents for a Safer Downtown Memphis, plans to take steps to raise awareness of the cruising problem. We already have a volunteer who has set up a webcam in his window overlooking the intersection of Front and Peabody Place; later in the week I’ll post the URL and you can see the madness for yourself. We also plan on using our new camcorder to paint a picture of what happens on Saturday nights for those who don’t get downtown to see it for themselves.
I’m excited, encouraged and optimistic. Once again, please direct e-mail related to this issue to email@example.com, and look for the new website to be up soon.