The idea has been tossed around for nearly 20 years, but with the Memphis Police Department struggling to make cuts while the Shelby County Sheriff's Office gets ready to take over school security, is it time again to talk about consolidating law enforcement?
Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton thought it could be a money-saver. Current County Mayor Mark Luttrell was lukewarm to the idea when he was sheriff.
City council members and county commissioners have waffled over the issue for years, but nobody seems able to shoot it straight when it comes to consolidating law enforcement.
Which one of these two scenarios would give you more confidence about the future of law enforcement for Memphis and Shelby County?
"How do you continue to keep the police department running when the council did not adequately staff, adequately fund, some mandatory things that you need just to make it through the day-to-day operations?," asked Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong.
"We're fairly busy. Through June, our officers have answered over 40,000 calls for service in those unincorporated areas, as well as them carrying out stops of some sort on what we call 'specials.'" said Sheriff Bill Oldham.
Go ahead think about it. That's enough. It's a tale of two fortunes akin to the story of the country mouse and city mouse.. Sheriff Oldham appears flush with finances, equipment and manpower, while beleaguered MPD Director Armstrong looks for places to cut a council-ordered $6.1 million from his budget.
Oldham and his complement of deputies are thoroughly prepared to take over school security for 14 Memphis City Schools starting Aug. 5, while Armstrong is losing officers at an admitted rate of 135 a year and can't get new ones because expenses for police academy classes have been cut.
"Boots on the street. I know you hear a lot about 'Blue Crush' and community policing, that would mean absolutely nothing, If I don't have anybody to help me implement those plans," Director Armstrong said. "I have to have personnel."
"Fugitive apprehension team where we took individuals with special talents and we wanted to address the toughest of the tough here," Sheriff Oldham said. "The most violent individuals and we've done that. It's been quite successful."
Why not resurrect the idea of consolidating law enforcement for the city and county? That wasn't so hard to say was it? But, actually doing it has never been easy. Six years ago, a special law enforcement consolidation task force explored the possibility in great depth.
Their recommendation was to merge the two organizations over a five-year period. Reactions were mixed among local crime fighters.
"Can we do that? Sure we could do that," former MPD Director Larry Godwin said in 2007. "I see a very positive thing out of it as far as enforcement."
"We have been unable to find in any of the areas that have consolidated, empirical evidence that states consolidation will help the crime problem," Louis Chapman of the Shelby County Deputy Association said in 2007.
Well, I'm sure the task force members got some nice name tags to keep as a memento for their efforts. In that same year, former Commissioner Mike Carpenter took plenty of heat and drew little support when he proposed forming a public safety authority.
The possibilities of it happening now would, for the moment, appear to be slim and none. As a candidate for sheriff, Oldham said he was against consolidating law enforcement.
Armstrong has never endorsed the idea.
But they both agree the cooperation between MPD and the SCSO has never been better. Besides, they both have really nice name tags.
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