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Q&A with Toney Armstrong

Memphis Police Director

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He may be best known for extracting a confession from convicted Lester Street Massacre killer Jessie Dotson on A&E's The First 48. But new Memphis police director Toney Armstrong has accomplished plenty outside the reality show's spotlight.

The Memphis native began his career with the Memphis Police Department (MPD) in 1989, making his way through the ranks leading the robbery bureau, organized crime, uniform patrol, missing persons, CrimeStoppers, and the homicide unit. On April 15th, Armstrong was sworn in following former director Larry Godwin's retirement.

The child of a single mother from inner-city Memphis, Armstrong says he'll make community policing his number-one focus, allowing technology-driven policing to take on a supporting, rather than a starring, role. — Bianca Phillips Flyer: How does your community policing model differ from how the MPD operates now?

Toney Armstrong: Right now, we rely on technology to tell us where to deploy personnel and to tell us what kind of crimes are going on in certain areas. But technology is a tool, and it shouldn't be the be-all, end-all. There should be some human interaction.

Will you be bringing back the neighborhood coact units?

I'm in the process now of revamping the COACT units. We'll probably rework them with a different mission. We do have COACT units now, but they have not been community-oriented.

Will you be making big changes within the department?

I'll be tweaking things in some areas and making big changes in others, but I can't be specific right now. There are some things Director Godwin initiated that will continue, but I'm not going to say any certain unit will be turned upside down. There are some things we do that I'm looking at changing.

Crime numbers are down significantly. Does that make your job easier?

The numbers say the crime rate is down, but we have to work on the perception. If you go into some neighborhoods, they'll tell us they're not seeing the reduction. They don't feel their relationship with the police department is great. We've been successful in some areas, but in others, we need to do a better job.

one of godwin's biggest regrets was not securing a police headquarters for the MPD. Will you try that?

My biggest challenge is to make sure we don't lose any officers to budget cuts. A police headquarters would be great, but I can't honestly say that I could envision the city earmarking millions of dollars for us to move in that direction when we're talking about laying off personnel.

What are you most excited about? I'm excited to be a source of inspiration for those mothers out there who are having the same struggles that my mother had. They can see that if you show a child the love they need and the discipline they need, there can be positive results.

What are you least excited about?

Budget cuts are challenging. If you talk to division directors all over the city, it's tough when you have to make choices as far as people's careers. I'm least excited about trying to get a budget in place during these tough economic times.

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