MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When a survey asked people in Memphis to rate how safe our downtown is on a scale of 1 to 10, nearly 75% gave it a score between 0 and 5.
When asked where downtown they felt most unsafe, the second-most-popular answer was “Everywhere.”
Responses like those are what a new report from the Public Safety Institute at the University of Memphis hopes to change, with a 60-page Downtown Safety Plan that contains a range of recommendations to make the front door of Memphis safer.
Among the recommendations — closing the bars in the Beale Street entertainment district no later than 2 a.m., adding police officers and security on Beale and continuing metal detector wanding after 10 p.m.
The district is a hotspot for activity, both good and bad. The report says there were 4,124 offenses recorded in the district, including about a block north and south of Beale Street, between May 2022 and May 2023.
Feedback from some people said Beale had become a “late-night block party” and a “babysitting service.”
Other recommendations for the rest of Downtown were adding police officers, more lighting and cameras, and lowering the cost of the trolley to 25 cents to encourage more riders. There were also recommendations to clean up and maintain the pedestrian-only Main Street.
The plan recommends increasing police in uniform and plain clothes, setting up a curfew and reducing aggressive panhandling.
The Memphis Police Department began adding more officers downtown in August, following a mass shooting just off Beale Street.
Tawanda Pirtle, who has owned Feelin’ Memphis on South Main for three years, feels having officers in crime hotspots could reduce crime.
“I don’t see enough police presence on my streets,” Pirtle said.
However, she is not in favor of a recommendation to add more plain-clothes officers.
“I am not for plain-clothes police officers. I am for police officers in a uniform, that’s my personal opinion,” she said. “I am for a clean town and pretty flowers.”
Pirtle said the real Memphis experience is a positive one for many locals and visitors. A few changes could make a big difference.
“When you really are a part of it, you love it,” Pirtle said. “When we tighten these little pieces up, we got it.”
Mayor Jim Strickland said Thursday morning that he hadn’t read the entire plan, but so far, “I agree with almost everything in there.”
“The serving alcohol way into the early mornings on Beale Street is not a good thing,” Strickland said.
Many in the survey agreed, saying that some bars stayed open as late as 5 a.m., even after security had gone home for the night.
But Tamike Heard, owner of Butteriffic Bakery and Cafe, wasn’t in support of that proposal.
“They have 12 and 14-year-olds committing a crime. What bars are they attending? I don’t know any 12 and 14-year-olds that are at bars. I am telling you, you better start with the kids,” Heard said.