(Memphis) For almost two hours Monday night, Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong fielded questions and comments from a concerned community.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Rainbow PUSH Coalition hosted a forum at the Annesdale Cherokee Baptist Church, where Armstrong responded to the organization’s list of recommendations for the police department.
In reaction to recent officers in trouble with the law, the church groups recommended changes like more extensive background checks for officers, more frequent psychological testing, more police substations, more “eye in the sky” cameras, and even more citizen input on police disciplinary action.
Armstrong responded to every point, saying he would bring some of these suggestions back for consideration. But he also mentioned that money hindered the department in making all of these suggestions happen.
For example, it could be very expensive for more extensive background checks, if teams fly to places where a candidate has worked in the past. Every “eye in the sky” camera costs thousands of dollars, leaving it impossible to place one in every community.
He also noted that many officers retired this year, with new officers yet to replace them.
Still, the main theme of the night came from people who felt victimized by officers.
One woman stood up to complain about an officer harassing her 11-year-old son while he walked the family dog.
Another man said that he’s a disabled veteran who was jailed for a crime he didn’t commit.
Juanita Jones stood up to tell the story of her son, Andrew Jones, a University of Memphis football player who she said was attacked by police on Beale Street in October.
Andrew Jones told News Channel 3 about his dislocated elbow.
“The bone was sticking out somewhat, and they maced me. And I had an allergic reaction to it, so my tonsils started to swell up,” Jones said.
Jones and his cousins had gotten in an argument with a bouncer, when he said police attacked without first asking what was going on.
Jones’s family has the incident on cell phone video.
Armstrong responded by saying he would look into the investigation on that incident.
He also talked about the department’s responsibility to root out crime, and how an aggressive approach would also result in more complaints of harassment. He called it a ‘double-edged sword.’
If his officers are more proactive, like questioning people loitering on street corners, they may also happen upon innocent people.
“I can promise you that my officers will never ever harass your son again if you make me a promise. They say, ‘what is that, Director Armstrong?’ If you promise me your son will not be standing on the corner, then I promise you my officers will not harass them,” Armstrong said.
He stressed the importance of family involvement.
“The biggest problem that I have now in the city of Memphis, is parenting,” he said. “You can double the size of my department right now. But I should never ever be able to go knock on anybody’s door, and you can’t tell me where your 15-year-old is.”
Stevie Moore, whose son was shot in the head with an AK-47, said that he supports the police and urges others to help them in their mission of safety.
“We seem to get so upset when a police officer or a white officer hurt one of our children. But just this last week six of our children were shot, I believe two of them dead,” Moore said.
He said there are far more people killing each other on the streets, than there are crooked cops.
“We have got to tell it. Somebody sees every crime that happens, on the streets, somebody knows it. And I’ll go further, somebody knew it before it happened.”