MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Police Department has reactivated a special unit to crack down on speeding and reckless driving.

The Special Traffic Enforcement Unit was activated Feb. 25, MPD said. Ten newly promoted sergeants were temporarily assigned to the Traffic Division. Permanent positions for the unit will be out for bid soon.

An MPD spokesperson said the unit was reactivated “partly due to concerned citizens requesting additional traffic enforcement on city streets and the interstate.”

The officers will enforce traffic laws primarily on the interstates as well as handle crashes and assisting crash investigations.

MPD said in 2022, officers handled roughly 37,387 crashes. 230 of those accidents resulted in fatalities of which 83 resulted in the death of a pedestrian.

Drivers and political leaders in the Memphis area have pleaded with the state for more patrols on interstates to combat a surge of speeding and reckless driving. The number of traffic fatalities doubled on I-240 in 2021 compared to the year before.

“This is something that’s well-needed,” said Dr. Jeff Warren, member of Memphis City Council. “Having seasoned officers in marked cars, helping bring traffic under control is something citizens desire and we need for community safety.”

But the unit’s reactivation also comes after MPD faced criticism for some of its special units following the death of Tyre Nichols, who was beaten by officers in a traffic stop in January. MPD responded by disbanding its SCORPION Unit after the incident.

“I think it’s a tremendous slap in the face,” said Chelsea Glass, an organizer with Decarcerate Memphis.

Glass questioned the timing and purpose of the unit.

“They know in a few days on March 7, [it will be] the final reading for the traffic ordinances that have come up in the last few weeks,” she said. “The scorpion and organized crime unit rely heavily on traffic enforcement. That’s what this is. A traffic enforcement unit. They are laughing in our faces.”

She said the community should stop turning to the police to fix chronic issues in Memphis.

“We could be investing in infrastructure throughout the city but instead continue to rely on enforcement but it’s not working,” Glass said.

Since the death of Tyre Nichols, Police Chief C.J. Davis has spoken about the department’s supervisor shortage.

WREG asked the department if the ten sergeants would be considered supervisors and how they became available during the reported shortage.

“Mind boggling to me to say they need more supervisors and then put them on traffic duty,” Glass said.

Dr. Warren said he planned to ask about the sergeants at the next city council meeting.