Memphis City Councilman Lee Harris is astute enough to know when it comes to the responsibilities of politicians and the police the lines of demarcation are abundantly clear.
"They're not politicians. So, they won't be able to do both," Councilman Harris said. "Both the politics well and the crime prevention stuff. You got to kind of pick, and when it comes to that choice, I'm all about getting real cops that can do crime prevention."
Yet, it's expected Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong will once again be forced to partially don his "political fedora" in trying to explain media reports of cutbacks in the vaunted Blue Crush operation to what will be an inquisitive city council committee on Tuesday.
Late last week, a December letter sent to Mayor A C Wharton by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, posed to him the question of why MPD isn't utilizing the Blue Crush Program in the wake of a rise in murder and violent crime statistics in 2012.
"We want to insure that the city of Memphis, that the police department has all the resources necessary to tackle that particular problem," says Memphis Shelby Crime Commissioner Michelle Fowlkes.
In an interview with FOX13 News, Director Armstrong's answer was simple. Budget cuts and changes in strategy did hamper the data driven program for a while, but it was reinstated in the final months of the year.
"We just hadn't been able to run it with the same frequency that we had using overtime dollars to do it," Armstrong said. "Our precinct commanders have had to be strategic and have to be creative."
So, undoubtedly on Tuesday, the police director will have to defend his changes in strategy and answer more questions about why didn't he inform the public he was going to be placing more emphasis on community oriented policing, going after gangs and bolstering the city's 25 block cleanup program? All of it while maintaining a budget?
The more pertinent query would be why would the crime commission asked the mayor instead of the MPD Director why there was a decline in Blue Crush activity? Why is it in the rest of city government it's the division head where the buck stops and where authority to instigate changes begin?
But, Director Armstrong seems to lack the autonomy to run his own department without having to explain his every move. After all, for all its perceived past successes' Blue Crush was just another tool in the toolbox of crime fighting. It wasn't meant to be the total answer other than to rack-up arrest totals.
Councilman Harold Collins believes it's time the administration took the handcuffs off Armstrong's ability to lead.
"I think that's the way the administration wants it," Councilman Collins said. "They don't want anything getting out. Anybody saying anything to anybody ... because I think the administration don't want information out. We ought to let the director be the director. If the director has come forward with a plan and he's made decisions based on how to operate his division, we ought to give him the confidence and the latitude we've shown in other directors to let them run their game plan."
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