Besides keeping the city's streets safe, Memphis police officers are also tasked with keeping streets clean.
Last week, officers from every local Memphis Police Department (MPD) precinct participated in a two-day course on how to identify and combat "environmental crimes," such as littering, abandoned houses, illegal dumping, and water pollution.
The course featured lectures on battling things that negatively impact the community, such as blight, poor yard maintenance, noise violations, and pets running off-leash.
"The best way to resolve [environmental] issues is to inform uniform patrol officers how to enforce the statutes involving environmental crime," said MPD officer Milton Bonds, a moderator for the training course. "We hope that we can make a difference and help rebuild the community."
The training course took place Wednesday, March 12th, and Thursday, March 13th, at the Memphis Police Training Academy. The MPD presented the course in conjunction with Memphis Code Enforcement and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Wednesday's session provided officers with an introduction to environmental crime and how to recognize and report occurrences. Blight, which impacts neighborhoods, businesses, property values, and crime levels, was the main focus.
"In certain cases, MPD officers are in areas where they see first-hand violations pertaining to environmental crimes," said MPD spokesperson Karen Rudolph. "This training allowed officers the opportunity to see how taking strides to improve blight issues can also improve our community as a whole. Officers can address these issues within their respective areas and help to maintain a beautiful Memphis."
On Thursday, officers were taught procedures for investigating environmental crime scenes, determining if a crime is civil or criminal, and how to organize a case for prosecution.
There was also a court presentation and mock court exercise orchestrated by Environmental Court referee John Cameron. Cameron focused on code violations, such as high grass and weeds, and illegally parked and inoperable vehicles.
"If you think of a city as an organism, neglected properties are like cancer cells," Cameron said. "As they spread, they can even mass together like tumors. Any number of factors has caused the disease to spread, whether through foreclosure, lack of money, or persons making bad, and at times, criminal decisions. Whatever caused the problem, it must be dealt with for the health of Memphis and the whole region."
Cameron said fighting environmental crime becomes more complicated every year, but Judge Larry Potter's Environmental Court provides the city with a way to deal with the issue more quickly and effectively. People committing environmental crimes can be cited with ordinance violations or penalized with misdemeanor and felony charges depending on the nature of the offense.
"I don't believe there is one solution to the cancer of blight attacking Memphis," Cameron said. "If anything, the more people we have in the fight, the better. We all have a role to play."