Justin Fox Burks
January's Women's March brought 9,000 people to the downtown area. In this case, MPD had ample time to prepare accordingly. February's pro-immigration march permit was granted under the three day exception. Even though police had a considerably shorter time to organize public protection, many that attended the march said police presence was noticeably stronger than the Women's March, though the crowd was a third of the size.
Though Memphis City Councilman Worth Morgan said he was certain that today's brief discussion of the public assembly permit application process will be one of many, it appears, for now, that the application process will remain the same.
During the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee (PSHS) meeting, Memphis Police Department Director Mike Rallings advocated for keeping the permit process as it stands without making any changes.
"We already have a system in place that works," said Rallings.
The current application requires an advance notice of 14 business days if the event attendance is expected to surpass 25 persons, however there is an exception to the 14 days notice stipulation for events organized within three days of current affairs becoming public knowledge.
In this case, organizers must give written notice to police.
This exception was applied to grant an emergency permit for February's pro-immigration march, in the wake of President Donald Trump's executive order banning travel for seven majority Muslim countries.
The vast majority of the 14 business day rule is attributed to assessing the need for police protection and organizing accordingly. Because both MPD and the City of Memphis maintain that the police force is short 500 officers, Rallings repeatedly reinforced the need for collaboration between the public and police, particularly after the committee meeting had ended.
"Public safety is not a role just for police. So if citizens know that something is going on, I expect citizens to take responsibility," said Rallings, adding that maintaining public safety at large assemblies in the face of a police shortage will only work through citizens collaborating with MPD.
The 14 day rule has drawn ire from local activists who were denied a permit. In at least one case, activists wanting to hold a rally and march in support of the indigenous people of Standing Rock were denied a permit on the basis of inadequate notice.
The protest happened anyway.
Referring to such occasions, Rallings said that if the event remains peaceful, no arrests would be made.
"We've taken the position that we try to protect citizen's first amendment rights," said Rallings.
The second half of the brief PSHS meeting heard intel from the MPD's Real Time Crime Center and the Internal Affairs Bureau regarding police-worn body cams, and the reduction in civilian complaints against the police.
With body cams deployed to 99.6 percent of the police force, both internal affairs and the crime center are able to analyze data regarding complaints in a fuller context.
MPD's Deputy Chief of Police Information Technology, Jim Harvey told the committee that the initial reduction in complaints, 75 percent, was inaccurate and only reflected one precinct.
Complaints against the department as a whole have dropped though, by 39 percent. Referencing studies done elsewhere on body cameras and their correlation with a drop in complaints against police, Harvey said he expects that the number of complaints will continue their decline.
“I think you’re going to see officers being a lot nicer to the public, and the public being a lot nicer to the officers," said Harvey, who added that the complaints being dropped are largely frivolous in nature.
Conversely, MPD's chief legal officer Bruce McMullen pointed out that there are incidents where the officer's behavior was in the wrong, and reviewing footage will work both ways.
"Our job is not to cover up complaints, but protect citizens," said McMullen.
When the PSHS chairman, Councilman Worth Morgan asked if the recordings helped expedite IAB's investigation process, McMullen said that, if anything, it adds time to the investigation.
"We're talking about a lot of videos to review", said McMullen. "But it's worth it overall."