MPD Director Blames More Weapons, Citizens Attitude, For String Of Police Shootings

(Memphis) Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said that recent officer-involved killings are an indication of people arming themselves and choosing to challenge law enforcement.

Armstrong said the recent death of Officer Martoiya Lang had a great impact on officers, enough to put their job environment in perspective.

But he said, “I will say that I don’t think that heightness [sic], or that level of awareness is at such a point that it puts our citizens at an uncomfortable situation. I think the citizens will understand, justifiably so, why an officer would be concerned about the situation around him. Because at the end of the day, they want to return home to their families just as everyone else would.”

Armstrong added, “The number one driving force in all of these is people arming themselves and choosing to challenge police officers.”

The victim from Thursday night’s shooting, Steven Askew, was said to have pointed a gun at officers. But his family doesn’t believe Askew, a 24-year-old with no criminal record in Shelby County, would have done that.

People in Frayser, where a suspected robber was shot and killed in December while fleeing from McDonald’s, said they understand police are going to play it safe before getting shot themselves.

“I think the police are on edge, as well as the young people out here, because violence right now especially in the black neighborhoods are just outrageous. The police are extra fearful for their lives, so I think they’re quicker to react,” said Tammi Ector.

Ector said she doesn’t always believe when police say someone pointed a gun at them.

C.T. Freeman, a retired Southaven detective and current University of Memphis professor of criminal justice, said the heightened sense of awareness is part of this difficult job.

Freeman noted that over the last few decades, he has seen more people disregard the law and challenge officers.

Armstrong said that within the last 18 months, eight of his officers have been injured and two killed in the line of duty.

Freeman explained that any officer in the field has to make a quick decision whether there are lives at risk.

“That’s an individual thing. It’s not like you see in the movies where you have a SWAT situation and there’s a commander saying you have the green light. Take him out. That’s Hollywood. That doesn’t really happen,” Freeman said.

In fact, Freeman said that the pressure on the person in the field is much higher than one can imagine. While some police behavior may be seen as cold or rude, he said, “They’re watching people’s hands. They’re watching their surroundings to make sure that they’re safe.”

In order to avoid a confrontation with police, he said, use common sense.

If you have a weapon and are approached by police, put both hands on the steering wheel or in the air. Tell the officer where your weapon is. Tell them you won’t touch it, but that you’d like to let them know it’s there. The idea is to make it easier for the officer.

As a reminder, Freeman said, “They get up every day understanding that first of all, this may be their last day, and secondly, that they may have to take someone’s life in the performance of their duties.”

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