Embattled Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong was prepared to make a spirited defense against charges he had cut back on the vaunted crime fighting program Blue Crush.
But instead of grilling him, council members jumped to Armstrong's defense and placed the blame on the shoulders of Mayor A C Wharton.
Director Armstrong said he knew there'd be no easy days when he took over the helm as the city's top cop. But certainly after what happened during an appearance at the city council budget committee on Tuesday, Armstrong should have a greater appreciation of days that turn out to be easier than expected.
Its inaugural operation burst on the scene one hot August night in 2005. An eye-popping 112 arrests that night signaled the era of data-driven policing dubbed Blue Crush had arrived with a flourish. In only a brief time acclaim for it's effectiveness reached new heights.
"Blue Crush has proven to be a model that's being looked at across the country and it's been nationally recognized," said former Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin in 2006.
Now seven years later, Armstrong, the man who inherited the revered program, has this week been bathed in the spotlight of criticism over his perceived curtailment of the trade-marked operation.
"Yes, that was an executive decision made by me to not go forward with the traditional methods to fund Blue Crush, because those dollars were going to be needed down the road just to keep us functional," Director Armstrong said.
But, the media frenzy leading up to Armstrong's appearance before the council budget committee was unexpectedly deflected away from the unapologetic Armstrong toward a man who wasn't even in the room.
"I think I'm going to go out on a limb here, when I say, that you are taking the fall for something you shouldn't be taking the fall for," Councilwoman Janis Fullilove said to Armstrong.
"Why did Mayor Wharton dismantle Blue Crush?," asked Councilman Jim Strickland. "Why did Mayor Wharton tell the council and the public Blue Crush was operating in the same manner it had when it wasn't operating in the same manner?"
In a reversal of fortune few, if any, saw coming, city council members chose not to verbally crucify the stoic Armstrong over his decision-making, but instead heaped praise upon the beleaguered police director for his ability to manage his department's overtime and keep Blue Crush going despite losing dollars denied him by the Wharton administration last budget cycle, as done as much with less strategy council members appreciated.
"Overtime for Blue Crush $2.3 million, so, this past spring MPD asked the Wharton administration to put back the overtime money and they did not," Councilman Strickland said.
"In 2011 we ran 681 Blue Crush details," Director Armstrong responded. "In 2012 we have ran 820 Blue Crush operations. Because of the tough economic times and because of the unfunded obligations that the city of Memphis Police Department has, we've used some alternatives and basically we've used $384,000."
By meetings end, Armstrong's image as a leader had been bolstered at the expense of the man who appointed him to the job.
"With every director prior to you they were basically given carte blanche," Councilwoman Fullilove said. "This is a rhetorical question. Why are they messing with you and putting handcuffs on you? Not allowing you to do the job that you were asked to do?"
"When I assumed this position I knew that it would not be easy, has not been easy" Armstrong said. "I suspect I don't see any easier days coming."