Memphis Police Department Receives Criticism and Praise From Citizens

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Representatives from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) hosted a public meeting at the Memphis Police Department's (MPD) Crump Station Monday evening to gather comments and concerns as it considers whether or not to reaccredit the department. MPD is seeking reaccreditation for another three years. It was last accredited in 2010.

Outside the station, a small group of protesters from the Memphis Black Autonomy Federation held signs protesting recent MPD-involved shooting deaths, such as the deaths of 24-year-old Steven Askew and 67-year-old Donald Moore, both killed this year by officers who claimed guns were pointed at them by the victims.

The federation submitted its public comment in the form of an eight-page emailed letter that includes a section titled "Body Count," which details 13 deaths that occurred either through shootings by officers or while suspects were being held in police care. They are asking CALEA to deny MPD's reaccreditation citing "several incidents of deadly force against people of color, unprofessional conduct, and corruption within the Memphis Police Department," according to a press release from the group.

Since those comments were submitted before the meeting, federation members did not speak at the public forum. They did offer comments to media outside the station.

"We're just asking for democracy and fairness," said Rochelle Carraway, addressing the issue of whether or not the MPD should receive reaccreditation. "If you don't have to kill, don't. It's gotten out of hand."

Lorenzo Ervin agreed: "We just want [CALEA] to be as thorough as possible. We don't want the [the MPD] to be legitimized by them."

Inside the meeting, some public comments echoed those of the protesters outside. Robert Gurley said he'd like to see a little more professionalism within the department, and Kenneth Van Buren, who often organizes direct actions against what he sees as injustices in city government, said he has asked the Justice Department to send a task force to Memphis to investigate the MPD.

"I've tried to talk to the [police] director, and my calls have gone unanswered," Van Buren said. He said he's unhappy about recent shootings. He also believes the MPD is guilty of evidence tampering, and he wants all officers to have to submit to regular random drug screenings.

But the majority of comments made inside the meeting were overwhelmingly positive. Dwight Montgomery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, did mention that "on one end of the scale, you have a small group of police officers who have acted inappropriately," referring to officers involved in recent shooting deaths. But he praised the department as a whole for dealing with what he called "major crime problems happening every weekend in certain neighborhoods."

Memphian Christopher Edwards agreed: "The police officers who serve us have taken on the responsibility of a job that very few men and women would agree to take. We need to be objective when looking at them."

"I am most grateful and thankful that these people come to work everyday," said commenter Jennifer Bush. "There have been isolated incidents and tragedies, but these could have happened in many other places."

Public comments are still being accepted by email, phone, and snail mail. Direct comments to CALEA at calea@calea.org, call (703) 352-4225, or mail a letter to the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, 13575 Healthcote Blvd., Suite 320, Gainesville, VA 20155.

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