MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland is sounding off about crime in the city. He has penned an open letter sent to judges and judicial commissioners, voicing frustration for the recent surge in violent crime as well as the “revolving door” of repeat offenders.
The letter says the following:
Dear Judges and Judicial Commissioners:
Over the last year, I visited every shift of officers in the Memphis Police Department. One of their main frustrations is having to encounter and arrest the same individuals over and over. This frustration is shared by the public.
During the last several months, I have spoken and written many times about the revolving door that is too often our current criminal justice system.
For instance, see posts on August 5, 2022; December 16, 2022; November 11, 2022; October 14, 2022; April 8, 2022; and others at: Memphistn.gov/government/mayor-jimstrickland/mayors-office/remarks-weekly-updates/
Low Bonds: I believe that bonds are too often set far too low, which allows the system to resemble “catch and release.”
To go a step further, those committing the crimes know that our bonds are too low. Recently, a man threatened to kidnap and torture another person and later hit an officer with his car. When a witness tried to tell the man, “It was not worth it,” the man confidently replied that he “had bail money.”
Weak Sentences: Last year, I did a public record request. In Shelby County Criminal Court in 2021, there were 280 guilty verdicts involving only aggravated assault. Of those, 25 percent of them were granted judicial diversion or probation (no prison time), including the following:
- Defendant shot his roommate with a gun
- Drive-by shooting
- Defendant shot gun at victim and her child
- Defendant stabbed victim
- Defendant shot victim in the stomach
A more recent example: On July 14, 2021, a man pulled a gun on a Memphis police officer, who took cover behind a tree. The man fired three shots at the officer, and fortunately, none of them struck the officer. The suspect was later arrested in August and charged with attempted first-degree murder and other charges.
On December 7, 2022, a plea deal was reached, which the officer opposed, and the court approved it; the punishment was probation for eight years—no prison time.
With respect to people who steal cars or break into cars, MPD arrested over 2,300 people in 2022 for these two crimes, and virtually all of them are currently back in the community. There is very little punishment or rehabilitation for those who commit these crimes.
Our judicial system is broken. Because of lack of consequences, there is little deterrent effect on future actions of criminals.
I ask you to have zero tolerance for gun crime. Also, I ask that you be transparent and open to the public.
Currently, important public information, such as Bail Setting Forms and Judgments, are not available online and are only available if someone goes to the clerk’s office and requests these documents under a defendant’s name.
I am asking you to post every Bail Setting Form and Judgment on a website, so it is easily accessible to the public. This can be done. City government posts every contract on its website.
Also, the criminal court websites need to provide an easy mechanism for the public to express their opinions as to the decisions that are affecting their safety. At city hall, we have emails and telephone numbers for the public to use. I would ask that the judges and judicial commissioners offer an online portal for public comment.
Thank you for your consideration.
Jim Strickland, Mayor