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Cops for Kids?

City Schools considers having its own police force.

By Mary Cashiola

On his last night on the job, temporary Memphis City Schools board member Bob Gammon finally got a resolution with his name on it. Sort of.

Gammon, who was appointed to the board after the death of Lee Brown, wrote a resolution asking the superintendent to create a Memphis City Schools Police Department. After it was amended by Commissioner Sara Lewis to charge the superintendent with simply researching the idea, the resolution passed 6 to 2. Hubon Sandridge and Patrice Robinson were the dissenting votes.

In introducing his idea, Gammon cited recommendations from the MGT report, traffic issues, and his own experiences as reasons for the change. During his time as commissioner, the retired teacher went out with one of the security officers to work as a crossing guard.

"A fight broke out just a little way away," he told the board, "but he couldn't do anything because it was outside his territory. ... As a police force, it would give them an opportunity to solicit grants and funds."

Shelby County government, the Memphis Housing Authority, and the Memphis Shelby County Airport Authority all have their own officers. As envisioned by Gammon, school- system police could enforce school speed zones, investigate threats to staff and students, and handle incidents that are just outside of their territory.

The police in the schools are currently members of the Memphis Police Department. MCS also has its own security guards.

Though Gammon assured commissioners it wouldn't cost the district additional funds, not everyone on the board was so sure of that. And there were others who disagreed in principle.

"It sends the wrong signal," said Sandridge. "Just the language itself: police force."

Before the resolution was amended, new superintendent Carol Johnson said she and her executive staff had some questions about the proposal and asked for more time to assess the long-term effects, as well as the cost and structure.

"My desire was to look at this and see what's best for the system," said Gammon.

A Sobering Slogan

Law-enforcement agencies crack down on DUI.

By Janel Davis

The Shelby County District Attorney and Memphis Police Department have added another slogan to their crime-fighting efforts with the "Designate Before You Celebrate" DUI saturation campaign.

The campaign includes the creation of a DUI task force within the attorney general's office and traffic checkpoints and bar visits by the Metro DUI Unit. The new DUI task force is designed to move DUI prosecutions through the criminal justice system faster with the help of two assistant district attorneys and one support staff member designated specifically for this effort.

"When assistant DAs assigned to criminal court have to balance homicide, robbery, rape, and other violent crime cases with DUI cases, the DUI cases understandably often end up getting delayed," said district attorney Bill Gibbons. "With this increased effort, we can better support the work done by the Metro DUI Unit."

During the upcoming holiday season, which is usually known for an increase in DUI incidents, officers are hoping that drivers in Tennessee think twice about that second or third drink before they get behind the wheel and instead find a designated driver to get them home safely. Sheriff's deputies will distribute posters, buttons, and stickers with the new slogan to local bars and restaurants. Zero-tolerance roadblocks and checkpoints will be set up along four major highways to arrest anyone driving under the influence, speeding, or not wearing their seat belts.

"DUI crashes are so unnecessary; it's really a preventable accident," said DUI officer Angie Lewis. "I have lost a family member to DUI, but it's more about keeping the community safe than it is a personal thing."

Lewis said the latest campaign will likely keep Shelby County incidents lower this year. "New Year's Eve is hands-down the most dangerous driving day," she said.

For drivers, Tennessee's illegal blood-alcohol concentration level dropped to .08 percent in July, down from .10 percent. First-time DUI offenders are sentenced to a mandatory 48 hours in jail. Jail time increases with each offense, with a sentence of one to two years in prison for a fourth conviction.

Last year the district attorney's office handled 5,000 DUI cases.

The Blotter

Absurd crimes from the local police files.

What did you think she was doing? A man was standing in a gas station at Brooks and Third on November 20th when a woman approached and began talking to him. He later told police that while he was talking on the phone, the woman began patting his pocket. "The suspect left and shortly after" he "noticed that the $65 he had in a money clip in his back right pocket was missing. The complainant believed the suspect took his $65 when she patted his pocket."

We suspect Kmart: Twice this month a bomb threat has been called in to the Germantown Wal-Mart. The first was on November 19th and the caller said "he was from Iran, and he put a bomb inside the Wal-Mart. The suspect told [an employee] to get everyone out, because the building was going to blow and he was not kidding." The Target store next door also received a threat. No devices were found. The next day someone called Wal-Mart again and said "he was going to blow up the place and that he was also watching the business."

Not helping his case much: On November 23rd, police responded to an intimidation call near the University of Memphis. The victim told officers she had been threatened by a man the neighborhood thinks is a drug dealer. "At the neighborhood watch meeting, his name was brought up about him selling drugs. His girlfriend was at the meeting and went and told him." After that he went to the victim's house, yelled and threatened her, and "pointed his finger in the shape of a gun and pointed it at her twice."

Bad to Worse

New DCS report highlights more county shortcomings.

By Janel Davis

Communication breakdowns and case-management issues are the latest findings in a report released this week by the Department of Children's Services (DCS).

The report focusing on DCS' Shelby County office was produced at the request of state representative Kathryn Bowers. It addresses the investigations into the deaths of several children while in DCS care.

In June, Bowers sent a memo to the department stating that she had become aware of eight deaths; named three children; listed case managers and supervisors who allegedly had the deaths in their units; and named seven DCS employees who had knowledge of the deaths.

Although the report found that the department performed a thorough and complete review of the deaths and there were no attempts of a cover-up by any employees, several issues needed management consideration.

The findings, a follow-up investigation to a July report, cited a breakdown in communication and coordination between the central office in Nashville and Shelby County. The local office also lacked sufficient relationships with Juvenile Court, the medical community, and other service providers. Frequent transfers of case managers and supervisors left inexperienced supervisors in program areas, with caseloads increasing from 10 to 16 a month per manager.

The report also included information from the July report for a corrective action plan. Governor Phil Bredesen has formed a seven-member team to address these and other problems noted in a federal settlement report.

One Handshake at a Time

Citizen-diplomats honor one of their own.

By Chris Davis

A letter from Congressman Harold Ford Jr. to the recipient of the first Betty Goff Cartwright Bridging Cultures Award reads, "Ironically, you have received an award named after yourself."

The award, presented to 84-year-old Betty Goff Cartwright by the Memphis chapter of the National Council for International Visitors, is the first of its kind. Ford's letter challenges others to follow in Goff's footsteps. "At times like this," it reads, "we need more people who can practice and promote [international] diplomacy."

The National Council for International Visitors (NCIV) is a not-for-profit organization of 80,000 U.S. citizen-diplomats who help to shape America's international reputation "one handshake at a time." The NCIV's mission is to design and organize programs for foreign leaders participating in the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Program.

Cartwright was also presented the NCIV Gold Star by NCIV national president Sherry L. Mueller. Recent Gold Star recipients include U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. senator Chuck Hagel.

An avid traveler who has visited 189 countries, Cartwright expressed gratitude for the honor and said, "It's been a pleasure [to be part of an organization I've] gotten more out of than I have given."

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