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Ticket to Ride

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With violent crime on the rise in Memphis, everybody seems to be looking for new ways to arrest the problem. Members of the City Council recently voted to add money for 50 more officers to the police budget. Local mayors, the Memphis Police Department (MPD), Sheriff Mark Luttrell, U.S. attorney

David Kustoff, and district attorney general Bill Gibbons last week announced an initiative called Operation Safe Community.

The initiative includes stronger legislation for gun crimes, mining data for areas of heavy criminal activity, and a comprehensive gang strategy.

That's all good in theory, but you'll have to excuse me if I'm a little skeptical.

A chain gang is only as strong as its weakest link, and the MPD seems to have several. As part of Operation Tarnished Blue, at least 20 officers have been the focus of criminal investigations in the past two years rather than the ones doing the investigating. And, on a personal note, last week I found myself wondering how the police function at all.

Let me explain. Being a member of the media has certain perks: When you introduce yourself, people's eyes often light up in recognition (on second thought, that's not always a good thing), sometimes you get into events for free, and in downtown Memphis, there are several designated media parking spots.

Supposedly.

In the time I've worked for the Flyer, most of my colleagues have gotten tickets for parking in media parking.

We used to place a Flyer business card on the dash, but after one of our reporters got a ticket, the then-police spokesperson said that the officer was probably standing on the other side of her car and didn't see the card. Then we started using two cards on the dashboard, one for each side.

After I got a ticket using the two-card system, we started using an 11" by 17" reproduction of our business cards, thinking officers surely couldn't miss a huge sign that said Memphis Flyer. But when I got yet another ticket, I realized that maybe we were being a little self-important. Perhaps the officers didn't know that the Flyer is a newspaper. Or worse, perhaps they didn't realize that a newspaper is considered -- yes, just like TV stations -- media.

So I added a huge "MEDIA" to my 11" by 17" sign.

I think you probably know where this is going. I got another ticket last week. I simply don't know what else I can do. Paint my car Flyer-green?

I keep trying to put myself in the officer's black boots. Maybe he or she didn't know the area was media parking; maybe he or she thought it was "No Parking."

Nope. Right on the bottom of the ticket, the officer had written "media parking only."

He obviously looked at the car closely enough to determine its make, model, and license plate number but somehow missed the MEDIA sign ... even when he stuck the ticket right under my wiper blade, right on top of the sign.

I just don't understand. Was the officer preoccupied? Was he or she just writing a ticket to meet some quota?

I know that in the grand scheme of things my parking ticket is a tiny infraction. If it were the first time, I'd assume it was a simple mistake and move on. But it's happened no less than six times. I'm sure there are some great officers out there, but that kind of sloppy police work makes me wonder about the success of any crime initiative. Memphis saw its 70th, 71st, and 72nd homicides of the year in the past four days. This may be harsh, but how are you going to crack a case -- or help lower the crime rate -- if you can't write a parking ticket properly?

I mean, Operation Safe Community is talking about using statistical data to find hotbeds of criminal activity. That's a good step, but it can't succeed without the officers on the streets doing their jobs properly. And, for better or worse, they are the face of local law enforcement.

Justice may be blind, but the rest of us aren't.

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