Last Wednesday, members of the Shelby County Commission heard a request for $162,000 for 360 additional bulletproof vests for the Shelby County Sheriff's Office training academy.
Hearing an explanation of the item, Commissioner Michael Hooks muttered, "Can we provide one for every citizen of Shelby County?"
With Memphis clocking in at 92 homicides through the first week of June, Hooks' idea may not be a bad one. Since last year at this time, the number of homicides is up roughly 36 percent.
Memphis Police Department's (MPD) homicide director Joe Scott said there are several reasons for the increase, but gang-related crimes are a major factor.
"The felons aren't carrying guns as often anymore. The younger gang members have taken charge of the guns," explained Scott. "This is a recipe for disaster: a young, angry man with a gun."
Statistics from gang-related crimes are studied closely to identify strategies that could aid MPD's Criminal Apprehension Team, the department's plainclothes surveillance officers. He says MPD's decision to pull out of the joint city-county Metro Gang Unit earlier this year has not hurt their ability to conduct gang enforcement.
"During the first four months of our operation, we have made more verified gang arrests than the Metro Gang Unit made in all of 2005," said Scott, referring to the Blue Crush operation, which uses mapping and statistical data for targeting crime hotspots.
The use of firearms in resolving petty disputes is on the rise as well. And in some cases, people may not resort to guns but still turn to homicide as a final solution.
Two weeks ago, 47-year-old Renee Godwin was run over and dragged by a car in Orange Mound. Police believe she and her attacker, Darrell Keith Anderson, were involved in an ongoing dispute.
Beginning this week, the police department will begin targeting high violent crime areas with specialized enforcement teams.
The 92 homicides so far this year average out to about one homicide every other day. Last year, the average was one every 2.8 days. "Six-month intervals don't tell the story," said Scott. "In 1993, there were 213 murders in Memphis, and as of June that year, there had been 83."
But Scott said there's no need for Memphians to hole up inside their homes, fearing for their lives.
"Lifestyle, drug involvement, gang activity, and committing other crimes is by far the number-one reason people are victims of murder," said Scott. "There have been victims of murder through absolutely no fault of their own, but the percentage is very small."
By the numbers: Homicides
At press time, police are investigating what may become the cities' 93rd, 94th, and 95th homicides after a woman, her son, and her husband were discovered in a burning home in Cordova. Investigators say the woman and son appear to have been beaten to death. The cause of the man's death has not yet been determined.
The numbers of homicides are up from 67 in the first week of July last year. Though Memphis has seen worse years (213 homicides in 1993), the city's on track to beat last year's total homicide number: 153.
Here's how we match up with other cities of comparable size through the first week of June:
Memphis (pop. 650,100) 92
Nashville (pop. 545,524) 45
Charlotte, North Carolina (pop. 548,828) 33
St. Louis (pop. 348,189) 62
Little Rock (pop. 183,133) 34
Detroit (pop. 951,270) 203