“I have said, and will continue to say, if you lose your downtown space, you have lost your city.”
— Police Chief CJ Davis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis has poured millions into its riverfront, convention center, and various downtown development projects over the past few years.
But all that could be for nothing if the city can’t get control of crime downtown, city council and Memphis Police leaders said during an impromptu discussion Tuesday.
The crime risk profile is getting so bad, one council member said it may eventually keep lenders and investors away from downtown Memphis entirely.
“If we cannot bring the crime statistics down in the downtown area, we will not get private investors,” Councilman Chase Carlisle said. “This is becoming a dire situation.”
Carlisle said public safety is important all over the city, but especially for downtown, which is a huge generator of sales tax, and an integral part of the identity of the city.
Statistics compiled by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission in August showed overall crime increased by more than 8% in Memphis in 2022.
In the 38103 Zip code, which comprises most of the downtown core, 4,501 crimes have been reported so far this year, according to the city’s Data Hub. That number was 3,913 in the same period a year before.
That translates to a 15% increase in crime reported downtown.
Carlisle referenced a recent weekend in which he said 30 cars were broken into on one block in one night. With visitors filling downtown for Grizzlies games and for the holidays, making people feel safe is more important than ever.
He said lenders and investors perform a risk analysis on projects that factors in nearby crime. The crime rate has caused his family’s company difficulty in obtaining insurance for one of its properties downtown, he said.
“At some point, we are going to tip the scale on whether or not Memphis is bankable and we won’t have the option for private investment,” Carlisle said.
Several council members echoed those concerns, both for the city as a whole and the downtown area specifically.
Rhonda Logan said she’d heard people talk about moving out of the city limits due to crime.
“We are virtually in a state of emergency as a city,” Logan said.
Leaders said they’re doing what they can to step up patrols and increase visibility for officers downtown.
Carlisle said Paul Young, the leader of the Downtown Memphis Commission, had promised to boost patrols by the Blue Suede Brigade in January — although Carlisle pointed out that would be after the holiday season.
Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis responded Tuesday, saying she shared the same concerns.
Davis said dozens of new officers would be hitting the streets soon. She especially stressed the need for more police visibility downtown, saying the area needs to see more foot patrol, more motorcycle patrol, and more mounted patrol. The extra officers are a visual deterrent to crime, she said.
“I have said, and will continue to say, if you lose your downtown space, you have lost your city,” Davis said. “Some people don’t understand that. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about the rest of our residents, but as far as the growth of the city and ensuring that people who visit here feel safe and will come back and invest in our city, it’s really important for us to take care of our downtown space. It is the face of the rest of the city, so we are very concerned.”