Despite technical issues and frequent streaming lapses, a Memphis City Council committee advanced three items that focus on police reform at its online meeting Tuesday.
The first is a resolution sponsored by Councilman JB Smiley Jr. that aims to increase the transparency of the complaint process for the Memphis Police Department (MPD).
The executive committee voted unanimously in favor of the resolution, which specifically calls for the public safety section of the city's data portal to be expanded to include all complaints of excessive force and misuse of body cameras, including a timeline of the investigation into the complaint.
The resolution also calls for the administration to access the feasibility of expanding the portal to include these complaints.
Smiley said the city has the “information and infrastructure” to include this information free of charge.
“Making this information available is about transparency and access,” Smiley said. “It’s about a fundamental change to reduce violence between citizens and law enforcement.”
MPD director Michael Rallings said the department might not currently have the technology to fulfill this request and that there might need to be an investment in new technology before it can.
“We want to do whatever you want,” Rallings said. “We just want to make sure we know exactly what you want.”
Councilman Worth Morgan said he is “all for” the resolution: “I love me some good transparency.”
However, Morgan said the details of the resolution need to be hashed out so the council can “hone in on exactly what we are asking for.”
Councilwoman Cheyenne Johnson, moved to amend the resolution to include the fire department as well.
The committee recommended the amended resolution for approval.
The council also advanced a joint resolution between the council and the Shelby County Commission requesting that MPD and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department adopt the “8 Can’t Wait” use-of-force reduction policy.
The policy was created by Campaign Zero, an anti-police-brutality advocacy group, to be implemented by law enforcement agencies in order to reduce and prevent violent encounters.
The eight principles of the policy include: banning chokeholds and strangleholds, requiring de-escalation, requiring a warning before shooting, exhausting all alternatives before shooting, intervening and stopping excessive force by other officers, banning shooting at moving vehicles, requiring use-of-force continuum, and requiring comprehensive reporting each time an officer uses force or threatens to do so.
According to the Campaign Zero website, MPD already practices three of the eight principles, but according to Rallings, four of the policies are currently in place.
Those include the ban of the chokehold, as well as requiring de-escalation, warning before shooting, and use-of-force continuum.
Rallings added that MPD just issued a new policy Tuesday on officers’ duty to intervene.
Morgan told the council that “on the face of it, some of these seem good,” but that he has questions about some of the policies, naming the ban of shooting from vehicles as an example.
“I can think of a lot of circumstances where it would be appropriate and help safeguard lives more than anything,” Morgan said. “A classic example would be Charlottesville, where at a peaceful protest a white supremacist decided to weaponize his vehicle and drove it through the crowd.”
Rallings is expected to return to the council on Tuesday, June 16th, to present the departments existing adherence to the “8 Can’t Wait” policies.
Martavious Jones withdrew a resolution that would ban the use of chokeholds by public safety officers after Rallings explained that chokeholds, except when an officer is fighting for their life, are already prohibited under MPD policy and state law.
The last resolution recommended for approval, sponsored by Michalyn Easter-Thomas, calls for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to form a community task force to assist in the selection of a new MPD director. Rallings announced last year that he plans to retire in April 2021.
All the resolutions, with the exception of Jones’ chokehold item, will be voted on at the full council meeting on Tuesday, June 16th.