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Many problem officers hired in 2009

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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They earned a badge then they broke the law.

Officer James Erwin busted by the ATF with crack cocaine. He's facing federal drug charges. Agents say he traded his MPD vest, radio, and even a uniform for drugs.

Officer Matthew Ashmore busted by the MPD Sex Crimes Unit. Detectives say his smartphone had images of young children being sexually abused by adult men. He's charged with sexual exploitation of a minor.  

Officer Eric Lee busted by MPD officers for allegedly attacking his girlfriend. He's facing domestic assault charges.

Each of them joined the force and went through the Memphis Police Academy in 2009. Several officers hired that year have been in trouble with the law, from drunken driving to drug offenses, domestic violence to sex crimes.

According to MPD records obtained by FOX13 News, a half-dozen officers hired in 2009 have been fired, the cause in each case either personal conduct or failing to adhere to the law. Other officers have resigned before facing termination.

MPD Director Toney Armstrong says, "There was a period of time when police were not totally in charge of hiring. But all of that has been corrected now."

City Hall handled the process of hiring officers in 2009. That was a time when the education requirements were lowered to just a high school degree, the department wasn't handling background checks and there was talk of allowing certain applicants with minor criminal histories. And in 2009 the city was in the midst of a police recruiting blitz. There was a massive effort to boost the size of the force.

MPD sources say some unqualified applicants slipped into the academy during that process but MPD Director Toney Armstrong says the department has changed how it hires.

"I feel like we're back on track and I think we're doing a better job in vetting our applicants going forward," says Dir. Armstrong.  

According to MPD personnel records, 266 officers were hired and graduated the academy in 2009. Since then 17% of those officers have left the department, six of those officers were terminated, a handful resigned facing termination and the rest decided to leave the police force for a variety of reasons.

Mayor A C Wharton said, "We're going all the way back and looking at the admissions standards into the academy looking at their performance in the academy."

Wharton says the number of officers arrested over the last two years has prompted his administration to review department policies. Fifteen months ago he appointed a three member oversight panel to review the MPD. The group's final report is expected soon. "There will be particular emphasis on officers who for whatever reason and whatever circumstance end up on the wrong side of the law."

Director Armstrong said, "You're talking about one percent, and it's so unfortunate that one percent get the big stories."

Armstrong says the vast majority of MPD officers follow the rules and when it comes to the MPD classes of 2009, 220 officers are on the job every day putting their lives on the line.

"I don't know of any business, any major company that you could ask the CAO, CEO of that particular (company), how would you feel at the beginning of the year if you said that you only had to deal with one percent of your company as it relates to discipline or whatever. I think any of them would tell you they'd take those odds, you know, over anything," said Armstrong.

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