Michael Rallings and Jim Strickland
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings discussed a number of new law enforcement partnerships that will be put in place following a downtown shooting spree last Saturday that left one Memphis Police officer dead and three other victims wounded.
Strickland told those gathered at City Hall for a press conference about his crime plan that Memphis has "a homicide issue," but he pointed out that cities across the country have seen homicides spike in 2016.
"It's not just a downtown issue or a Frayser issue or a Hickory Hill or Cordova issue. It's not just a Memphis issue. It's an American issue. City after city is dealing with a rise in homicides," Strickland said.
As for his crime plan, Strickland said the city would be partnering with Tennessee Highway Patrol to focus on a data-driven hotspot model of traffic enforcement in an attempt to catch illegal guns and drugs moving through the city.
Additionally, he said the city is working with the Beale Street Management Authority and the Downtown Memphis Commission on a plan to boost security on Beale Street, and those plans will be shared with the public later this week. The Shelby County Sheriff's Office will also assist the Memphis Police with enforcement and crowd control at peak times in the entertainment district.
Beginning July 5th, Strickland said domestic violence offenders accused of aggravated assault and attempted murder will be required to wear GPS-monitored ankle bracelets.
Strickland also said he spoke with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Monday about a successful New Orleans program that is credited with driving down homicide numbers there. He said some of those program leaders would be coming to Memphis to share more information.
Rallings said that solving the city's homicide problem — there have been 96 homicides so far in 2016 compared 161 in all of 2015 — would require community effort. He said people need to report to police any suspicious activity before it leads to a homicide.
"I see Facebook posts where young men have five or six guns. Those [young men] belong to somebody. They have a mother and friends," said Rallings. "We aren't going to solve this overnight because we've got to work together."
The press conference came in response to a Saturday night shooting spree for which 21-year-old Justin Welch has been charged with evading arrest, attempted first degree murder (three counts), murder in the first degree, theft of property over $10,000, vehicular homicide, and reckless driving.
Welch was apprehended by police after a spree that involved multiple shootings at various downtown locations and ended with Memphis Police officer Verdell Smith being run over and killed by the car Welch was allegedly driving. The violence began around 9:44 p.m. on Saturday when two men — 39-year-old Joshua Walton and 57-year-old Abdul Sakan — were shot while dining at a picnic table outside Westy's Restaurant and Bar in the Pinch District. Welch allegedly walked up to the men and fired. Both men remain in critical condition at Regional One Health.
Welch then apparently ran toward Bass Pro Shops and allegedly fired at Bass Pro Shops employee 21-year-old Christopher Dickens, who was in the parking lot. Dickens was transported to Regional One, treated, and released. By the time Welch shot Dickens, he was believed to be driving a stolen 2012 Chevrolet Camero. Rallings said at the press conference today that they do not know yet if someone else was in that car.
Welch then led police on a chase that ended up at B.B. King and Beale, and that's where the car struck 46-year-old Memphis Police officer Verdell Smith. Smith and other officers had been trying to clear pedestrian traffic on Beale when he was fatally hit. From there, the car hit a tree, and Welch tried to flee, but police managed to take him into custody. He is in jail at 201 Poplar on a $2 million bond.
Rallings said at the press conference that police do not yet know if Welch suffered from any mental health issues, but he said Welch does have several charges for gun incidents in Chicago. Rallings said citizens should call 528-CASH if they know more about the shooting.