MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Jim Strickland, counting down the final few months as mayor before his term ends, had harsh words Monday on the rising levels of crime in his city.
Those crimes range from high-profile shootings in the Downtown tourism district — like the shooting that injured one at a Lil Baby concert at FedExForum — to rampant auto burglaries and thefts.
Strickland, speaking to WREG in an interview posted above, placed much of the blame squarely on a court system that he said was not deterring people from committing crimes.
“Our court system’s not tough,” he said. “We need clear messages out of 201 Poplar and Juvenile Court: If you commit a violent crime, you will be held in jail, you will kept in prison for years and years. If you shoot a gun at somebody, you ought to serve eight, 10 years. And that’s not happening.”
Almost 2,400 people arrested in the last 18 months in Memphis have been arrested for auto thefts and auto break-ins, Strickland said. The number of auto thefts and break-ins has increased 50% this year.
The victims include the mayor’s own daughter and nearly everyone in the city knows someone who’s been affected, he said.
“Why? Because there are no consequences for those arrested. People who are committing these crimes know there are little to no consequences. Therefore, they keep doing it,” he said.
This year, Strickland said, Memphis Police officers became the highest-paid police force in the area, with raises in the last three years of 5%, 5% and 14%. “We need it to be No. 1 because they have the hardest job,” he said.
“We need to stop thinking city government and police can do this all this by themselves. Twenty-four hundred people arrested in a year and a half for car theft? Hold them in courts! Hold them in prison! Punish them!” the mayor said, raising his voice to emphasize his point.
“Make it be a consequence. Otherwise, they keep doing it. If you let people out for shooting at other people — which the system has allowed probation, dismissal of cases — people keep shooting. There has to be a consequence. Until there is, this revolving door will continue. And it’s unacceptable.”
Strickland said he’s concerned that crime leads to population and business losses.
“It is a real thing. I’ve met with groups of business leaders who are pleading for help in trying to reduce crime. Their customers, their cars are being broken into, their cars are being stolen.”
In a recent WREG poll, 46% of respondents said they or a close friend or family member had been a victim of a violent crime in the past year.
Sixty-three percent said they or a close friend or family member had been the victim of an auto break-in or theft.
Seventy percent said they thought it was likely they would be a victim.
Twenty-one percent rated “more police” as the top answer for fighting crime.
Strickland is term-limited this year, and 17 candidates are running to replace him in the Oct. 5 election for the mayor’s office. City Council elections are the same day. Early voting starts Friday.
Four of those mayoral candidates qualified for WREG’s debate, which airs on News Channel 3 Tuesday at 7 p.m. and streamed live on WREG.com. See details here.
► Find a sample ballot for Memphis voters here.
► WREG released a poll on the mayor’s race Aug. 15. See the results here.