Jan 10 2016

Changing of the Guard

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, Policy

MPD Director Toney Armstrong

MPD Director Toney Armstrong

The Commercial Appeal reports that half of the members of MPD’s administrative staff have left, or will be leaving soon.

This follows the recently announced departure of Police Director Toney Armstrong.

While there’s no question the loss of so many seasoned officers who made their way up through the ranks will be a huge loss to the Department, it also gives newly inaugurated Mayor, Jim Strickland, an opportunity to remake the department to better serve the community.

To Protect and Serve

The Department faces many challenges in the coming years, including a crime rate that is higher than national averages for urban areas, continuing problems with public opinion, and an overall decline in the number of officers.

The department also suffers from internal problems that have been long ignored regarding policing strategies, something that was a major campaign issue in the fall, operating procedures that have serious flaws, and conduct issues that, while not untypical for a major metropolitan department, must be pursued in a more open and honest way.

It is my belief that these challenges are unlikely to be adequately addressed by an insider. The CA article cites concerns about losing institutional memory. While no one wants to have to relearn some of the more painful lessons of the past, there’s also no reason to believe that those lessons can’t be maintained with some of the leadership that remains assisting new leadership from outside.

Remaking the Department

One of the flaws that was exposed in the investigation into the officer involved shooting death of Darrius Stewart is the lack of consistent policy positions for officers in what would often be standard situations. These rules are written vaguely to give officers the latitude to make judgement calls. Unfortunately, that latitude can also be used to treat different people in similar situations very differently…which ultimately undermines the relationship between law enforcement and populations that have been wrongly targeted due to circumstances that may be beyond their control (race, the condition of their vehicle/residence, and the area in which they live).

Rules that detail when passengers involved in traffic stops are to be compelled to identify themselves need to be put in writing to ensure people’s privacy rights are respected, and that officers don’t accidentally create a situation where an arrest is thrown out due to mishandling the situation.

In addition, clear rules about when to call for backup need to be in place. If an officer has reasonable suspicion that there is additional illegal activity going on, calling for backup is appropriate because it both protects the officer and the other people involved by having another set of eyes on the scene.

Finally, additional rules about when force, either restraining force or deadly force, is to be used need to be implemented more fully. Is an unarmed suspect running from a crime scene a ‘deadly threat’? That standard should be in line with a 1985 US Supreme Court ruling which involved the Memphis Police Department.

The case, which happened in 1974, involved a MPD officer shooting and killing a man suspected of stealing a purse then fleeing. An officer on the scene shot the man in the head, killing him.

In the decision, the Supreme Court held that an officer could not use deadly force unless it was:

necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

This is already the law of the land. Ensuring the Department is protecting itself, and its officers against unreasonable uses of deadly force is just as important as working as hard as possible to ensure the safety of the officers and the public.

Putting those things in writing to aid officers in their decision making on the scene would go a long way to avoiding issues that lead to the shooting death of Darrius Stewart.

An Active Partner

In addition to these changes, the new police administration should actively engage the Citizen Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) on any new policy adopted, and treat their relationship as a partnership to both inform the public of new policy, and provide oversight to the department when policy violations are reported.

Since long before the Darrius Stewart case, relations between law enforcement and some populations has been strained due to real and/or perceived wrongs committed by officers. Letting officers know that actions in violation of policy will be not only taken seriously, but that another set of eyes are watching, will help solidify these changes, and can lead to a net positive in the public’s view of police.

The end result here is not to tie the hands of officers, but to ensure consistency across the board, inoculating the officers and the department from lawsuits claiming unfair treatment.

Building Relationships

One of the challenges that police in Memphis face is little direct contact with the populations they’re serving, unless on a call. That means officers only see the people they’re serving when they’re at their worst, or in a bad situation, which negatively impacts their outlook on the community, and leads to more alienation.

Instituting a more traditional Community Policing Program would help both of those problems, and most likely lead to a real decrease in crime.

Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.

While walking patrols may not be feasible all the time in a place like Memphis, which has low population density, putting more of a focus on officers developing relationships with people in the community to create a more cooperative spirit between law enforcement and the public will minimize the alienation that is common in traditional patrols. It also builds relationships between the public and police that are durable, even when things go wrong (like a questionable police shooting).

Personal relationships go a long way to building stronger communities. Memphis not only has an interest in building those relationships to heal the fractures between the public and law enforcement, but to also use that ‘boots on the ground’ intelligence to identify other societal ills that may be occurring in communities (domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, unfit housing, wage theft, and other problems people who feel forgotten may not report because they don’t believe anything will be done about it).

This kind of partnership strengthens communities, and can help lift up people suffering from these kinds of problems that often go unseen until they spill over into the streets, or result in a 911 call.

As those problems get resolved, it also increases the efficiency of the citizenry (as they are now, assuming all goes right, in a better situation) which can lead to secondary gains for the community like greater economic independence and community renewal.

All of these things are important for a city like Memphis that has a high rate of working poor.


While the loss of decades of institutional memory may seem like a severe problem for the city…problems are really just opportunities ripe for the taking.

Positive changes are unlikely to come from within. Institutions have their own inertia and generally follow Newtonian Laws of Motion, meaning, they will most certainly maintain their current velocity and direction unless acted upon by an external force, and then, they’ll still resist the push to change.

The opportunity for Memphis and law enforcement in the City, is to identify the right kind of ‘external force’ that will move the department in the right direction, and make Memphis not only safer for its citizens, but also one that places a high degree of value in a cooperative relationship between the police and the citizenry.

Jun 28 2014

Giving Process its Due

Posted by Steve Ross in corruption, lies, media, Policy, Shelby County, shenanigans

Shelby County Commission

Shelby County Commission

The crazy clown car show that has become the Shelby County Commission rolls on…but at least it may hold off until after the fourth.

Of course, the troubles are well known. Now at least two members of the Commission are under scrutiny for not living in their districts: Henri Brooks and Justin Ford.

Oh to be a fly on the wall at MLGW this week. I suspect they got a lot of $175 deposits from area politicians who have made a home outside of the area they represent.

But my purpose is not to throw out allegations, or anything of the sort (I’m not nearly the attention whore that some are…ala Thaddeus Matthews), but rather to mock the maker of the original accusation, the target of the accusation, the so called “conclusive” investigation, and the County Commission for making a mockery of itself.

Terry Roland Loves Checkers

Its too bad for Terry Roland, we live in a chess world. The guy plays checkers pretty well. I’m sure he has all the strategies to get that last checker cornered in such a way that he can go in for the kill.

But Roland hasn’t been as successful in the real world of politics where chess reigns. Sure, he’s garnered a lot of media attention, but most of it, in the end is just the fruitless flailing of a guy who quite frankly is more about attention than effectiveness.

Terry set off this chain of events, and in one way I’m glad, because this has been known a problem for some time, though not necessarily in this instance (that remains to be seen). But in another way, like checkers vs. chess, he forgot that the queen can “move” anywhere on the “board”, and the absence of a queen in one place doesn’t mean the queen isn’t still on the board.

Marcy Ingram and Mishandled Investigation

In the letter to Commission Chairman James Harvey, Ingram provides evidence that Brooks does not live at the location listed on her disclosures, and offers one eyewitness account that she frequently visits her daughter and grandchildren in Cordova (which is what grandparents do, by the way) and may have established MLGW service at that Cordova address (which is also something a parent might do if their child is in financial distress).

Unfortunately, Ingram does not establish anything other than the fact that Brooks does not live at the address on Crump, which is problematic. There are literally thousands of other addresses in District 2 that Brooks could live at. Merely proving she no longer lives at one of them does not prove she doesn’t live at another.

In fact, the lack of evidence establishing that Brooks lives outside District 2 (rather than just not at the Crump address) means that Ingram’s conclusion that Brooks lives outside the district is a huge leap in logic, not to mention other things.

In essence, Ingram sets up a “guilty until proven innocent” scenario in her letter…a flaw that Brooks was ready to exploit.

Defining Residency

I wasn’t at the County Commission meeting on Wednesday, but coverage from the event show Brooks sitting next to Walter Bailey looking like the cat that ate the canary. And despite her counsel getting the address wrong, Brooks did exactly what you would expect her to do in the face of a faulty report by the County Attorney…she offered up another address in District 2 as her residence.

The media guffawed at the new assertion, while failing…as I did initially, to note that Ingram’s report only established where Brooks does not live…rather than affirmative proof that she DOES indeed live outside the district.

Because Ingram never affirmatively proved where Brooks lives, she also hasn’t proved that Brooks doesn’t live in District 2.

Henri Brooks the too willing martyr

All of this could have been avoided if Henri Brooks had only provided the address on Mississippi to the County Attorney. But Brooks seems to relish being in the limelight this way.

Indeed she’s built her career on “standing up for her constituents” by launching invective at both friend and foe, while seeking to highlight an issue. Its unfortunate that she chooses this tactic, because it has made her one of the most disliked and ineffective members of the County Commission during her time in office.

Brooks doesn’t seem to understand that in order to be effective, you can’t shit on everyone around you and then claim moral superiority in the same breath. Her unwillingness to cooperate with the County Attorney’s investigation is just one example of the arrogance she demonstrates on a regular basis to the detriment of both her self, “her constituents”, and the County Commission as a body.

Indeed, she did set off an unnecessary shit show as Memphis Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden put it.

Yes, I still hold that she should prove her residency and end this foolishness.

But this is classic Brooks being Brooks as this CA profile put it. I’m not sure why anyone would expect anything different.

Doing Due Process

Now that there’s another Commissioner whose residency is in question, the County Commission should put in place a process by which they may remove a member who has violated the residency requirement set forth in both State Law and the County Charter.

I tend to agree with this editorial at the CA, the lack of a defined process, and the legal tests that must be met to “prove” someone to be in violation of the law, means that future efforts to enforce the residency requirement will indeed be met with both resistance, and dragged out to the point that they are moot (which is what will most likely happen in the Brooks case).

Residency questions should fall to a body outside the County Commission itself, to remove the appearance of playing politics. Perhaps the County Ethics Committee should be the one to investigate such claims, or the District Attorney (though neither necessarily mean the claims themselves, nor the investigations would be devoid of politics at its worst).

Regardless, there needs to be a real process in place rather than what is happening now, which is a half-assed attempt at best.

Failing to do something of this sort almost ensures another “shit show” such as this one…which is something the public shouldn’t have to endure again.


Lets give credit where credit is due…this whole misadventure getting to this point (and the future if the Ford question comes up) is the direct result of an elected official believing they don’t have a duty prove they meet the qualifications of service.

This belief is founded on something more akin to divine right rather than representative democracy, and has no place in our government on any level.

Scrutiny is the check that should help give us faith in our government. This may have been lost somewhat in an era of scrutiny for sport, which has dominated the past several years, but that doesn’t make elected officials any more immune from answering to the public, even when the question is stupid or politically motivated.

It speaks volumes about the individuals who believe they don’t have a duty to answer to such scrutiny. It says they don’t understand the fundamental nature of their relationship with the public.

It says a lot about a person who would rather allow a fight to escalate unnecessarily than choose to bat it down before it matures into a crisis. This kind of self-absorbed lack of care is all too present in our current political climate…at all levels of government.

But while Brooks’ character flaws (both real and perceived) may make it easy to dismiss her, dislike her, or hold any number of ill wishes on her political future…the simple fact remains that this process is as flawed as the witch trial in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail…which is at least as bad for our republic as Brooks’ irrational behavior, and many other completely preventable incidents she’s been a party to.

You don’t have to like her. You don’t have to support her. But until the County Attorney can prove where she lives and that her address is actually outside of District 2, the conclusion that she’s in violation of any State or County statute is not based on the fact that she doesn’t live in her district…only evidence that she doesn’t live where she previously said she does.

While the standard offered by Ingram may seem on its face to prove something, it doesn’t rise to the standard of proving a violation. Until the County Attorney can provide hard evidence that proves guilt (by proving where Brooks lives and that it is outside the district) rather than lack of innocence (which what Ingram has proved thus far), this whole charade is nothing more than a distraction initiated as a political ploy, continued by a hasty determination, fueled by a bullheaded and self-absorbed elected official, and fanned by an all too compliant and complacent media.

May 20 2014

Outsourcing Substitutes…#sigh #scsk12 #budget

Saving money is one thing,
but the math doesn’t even work on this deal.

I think we need to call in the subs for some of these members.

I think we need to call in
the subs for some of these members.

Tonight the Shelby County School Board is going to consider a proposal to use Kelly staffing services to place substitutes for the district in the upcoming year.

According to this article at the Commercial Appeal, the district doesn’t have the in house resources to fill the 800 – 1000 teacher and teacher aide absences that happen each day. The district says they’re operating at 80%, which means classrooms could be teacherless (which we all agree is bad). So they propose to do this deal with Kelly Staffing, so they can use their existing staffing model to get the subs to the schools at a higher assignment rate.


Now I see both sides of this argument. Its a liability for the district to have classrooms without teachers (or subs). On the other side, using a temp agency makes it sound like any ole Joe Blow will be able to go in and play “teacher” for the day.

Well, that’s not how its gonna work…in theory.

Current subs will be grandfathered in, and Kelly will use its massive resources to get other folks to fill in when they need them.

This all sounds good in theory, but I can’t help but wonder what happens when it doesn’t work, or some guy on the sex offender registry gets assigned to a school (which would be a catastrophe of epic proportions).

Will Kelly be required to get certified teachers? Better yet: What will the qualifications be to become a sub in the Shelby County Schools? Heck, what are they now? (Here’s the answer)


Here are the top two things the district expects of Kelly:

1. On average, SCS experiences approximately 800-1,000 teacher/teacher assistant absences/day; Due to staff capacity issues, SCS HR has only been able to maintain a fill rate of about 80-85% (there are only two people on staff who are assigned to substitute management, and who also have other duties), leaving dozens of classrooms empty on any given day. Our recommended vendor has an average fill rate nationally of 98% and locally (surrounding districts) of 100%
2. Next year the district will be responsible for providing employer paid health care for employees working, on average, above 30 hours per week. We estimate this would add 200 employees to the district’s health insurance plan – estimated cost is being researched and will be provided in Board presentation

Subs in the Kelly system will be able to buy into their health insurance…assuming they keep their hours above 30/week.

I get being all cost conscious, but I’m still not comfortable with the idea that people are these expendable things that can be shuffled around over a couple percentage points of your budget. I know…this is the world Reagan built for us, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.


My biggest problem with this is the top number…$11,000,000.

Let’s do some simple math…but first, lets look at what subs get paid:

Fewer than 20 consecutive days $128.95/per day
Certified Substitute Teacher (after working 20 consecutive day in the same assignment and has a valid Tennessee Teaching license in the subject area in which he/she is subbing) $214.35/per day
Assistants $13.70/per hour

Now, lets do some math here…

# Absent Cost Per Day Cost Per Year
800 Teachers $103,160 $18,568,800
800 Assistants $65,760 $11,836,800
400 Teachers/400 Assistants $84,460 $15,202,800
200 Teachers/600 Assistants $75,110 $13,519,800

There is no way to get to $11m…unless you’re not really having to place 800 subs a day.

Which begs the question…how many are you really having to place a day?

According to next year’s school budget, there will be 7,191 teachers and 1,395 teacher’s aides (p.20) or about 8,600 folks who would fall under the ‘needs a sub’ category (not sure if guidance counselors, librarians, etc. fall under that category, but I don’t think so).

For the district to have to fill 800-1000 subs/day, between 9.3% and 11.6% of next year’s teacher population would have to be out on EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE SCHOOL YEAR.

Now, when there’s a flu or something like that going around, I get it. Maybe it peaks at 1000. But 1000 on a daily basis? Seriously?

I find that incredibly hard to believe.

More Math

Here’s another thing. Last year, the district says they budgeted $11,517,482 for substitutes. Last year there were a whole lot more teachers (because every school in the county was in the district). This year, the budget calls for $8,436,504 for substitutes (p.89).

But we’re gonna pay $11m to get someone else to do the heavy lifting and get around paying health insurance?

Is that what I’m to understand?

We’re going to pay over $2.5m more for a private company to handle our subs so we won’t have to hassle with assigning them or pay health insurance.

That’s what I’m reading into this whole thing.

In the process, you’re going to make an already difficult job even less attractive (the few who actually work every day a year (and its gotta be a few) probably qualify for ACA subsidies…if they aren’t already covered).

The most a sub could make is just under $37k/year. That’s assuming they work every day, which knowing some subs I can tell you, they don’t.

But I know, I know, we gotta make sure people that don’t send their kids to public schools don’t feel double taxed by their discretionary spending on private schools!!!

SIDEBAR: yes, some of them actually have the gall to think they’re being double taxed for paying private school tuition…when they’d do it no matter how good public schools are because its just as much about what the Jones’ down the street are doing (ie. status) as education.


Look, I don’t have a problem with fiscal restraint. I understand that we can’t throw money at every project in the public schools. But seriously people…this crap has gone way over the top.

I also understand that the schools are treated like society’s social workers…tasked with fixing all the things we, as a society, have screwed up, while at the same time being society’s whipping boy for not getting it done on a budget.

Its asinine.

But that’s what we expect…cure poverty, reduce crime, end teen pregnancy (without mentioning how it happens), and for God’s sake, bring up our low graduation rate/college degree attainment…and do it for nothing, because we’re just that damn self-absorbed to believe we can have it all and pay nothing for it.

Teachers, look out. The way things are going Kelly will be your new boss next year. Your union’s already been busted by the State Legislature…don’t think this school board won’t do it to you as well…and with a grin that says “fiscal responsibility”.

And while you’re at it… you better keep that performance up, lest someone decide you just aren’t getting it done cheap enough for their bottom lines.

Because that’s where we’re headed…and folks, it ain’t pretty…unless you keep your rich uncle on your side…which I just didn’t do.


Apr 12 2014

‘Bangers, Budgets and Bosses…a week in Memphis

So it was kind of a weird week in Memphis. That’s not unusual I guess, but the way things worked out leaves a couple of bad tastes in my mouth…so, I’ve taken to writing aging for now.


Open carry is one of those things the NRA and groups like it have been pushing just about everywhere in the South.

I’m not a fan of open carry laws because I just don’t think its necessary, and when you remove the requirement that people get proper training to carry a firearm in public, you endanger public safety and the safety of the person carrying the firearm.

On the other hand, I’ve always found the argument by the “conceal-carry” set that a concealed firearm is somehow a “crime deterrent” disingenuous. If its concealed, its more likely you will have it stolen when someone with a gun in their hand gets the jump on you. If its concealed its less likely to give a potential armed criminal pause. If its out there in the open, it may cause someone to think a little before they act…or just kill you first and take your gun to continue whatever violence they intend to commit.

In any case, the bill passed the State Senate, but according to the linked report, will die in the State House because:

“Every gang-banger in Memphis will end up packing. Can you imagine?” – Rep. Steve McDaniel

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

McDaniel lives in a little town on I-40 over 100 miles from the nearest “Memphis gang banger”, but apparently there’s enough fear of such a thing in tiny Parker’s Crossroads, TN, that it would stop him for falling in line with the Tennessee Firearms Assn..

It probably helps that the filing deadline has passed and there’s no time to primary him they way they did Debra Maggart.

Betsy brought up the problem with that logic, though I’m not really sure what her point is…

But my buddy Cardell Orrin wins the day with this response to the specter of an “Open Carry Tennessee”…

I have no idea if this will pass the State House, but I hope it doesn’t.

All this proposal will do is lead to more accidental shootings and other mishaps, of which there are already plenty in this country.


Its budget season, which is one of my favorite times of year…because you get to see policy both in action and inaction (see what I did there).

Tennessee Budget

The State rubber stamped Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget down to the dollar…leaving out promised money for teacher raises, tuition freezes, and other critical stuff. A proposed additional $2m dollars for rape kit funding was also struck down, because…Memphis. State lawmakers just hate us for some reason.

Shelby County Government Budget

Shelby County Government also released a proposed budget which was praised for lowering taxes and providing raises for County employees.

Looking into the guts of the proposal, it seems that while overall revenue is down by about $53m (due primarily to fewer federal government transfers) property tax collections are projected to increase by just under $2m (which accounts for the penny).

470 employees will be lost, most of them (440) due to the end of the Shelby Co. Head Start program. I haven’t seen news about who, if anyone, has received the federal funds for that program.

This is an election year, so a tax cut, even a small one, is a political instrument as much as anything else. After last year’s hike, any cut will be trumpeted to the hills.

In reality, this budget is a continuation budget. There’s no new great vision or direction to be seen. There’s no great look at what the County Administration wants the County to look like going forward other than “the same”. And with all the structural problems the County has (that they largely ignore) its hard to feel really good about this budget…unless all you care about is the political viability of using a tiny tax cut as a means to garner votes.

Shelby County Schools Budget

The County Schools also released their initial budget proposal to the County Commission to accolades from the body. The budget includes a reported 2316 real job losses and 2380 jobs that move to the six municipal schools.

The real way to look at this budget, is not against last year, but the last year of MCS, since the remaining SCS schools are primarily former MCS schools. Here’s a top level breakdown:

12-13 MCS 14-15 SCS
Employees 13,031 12,818
Enrollment 104,829 117,154
Pupils per employee 8.04 9.14
General Fund 901,799,827 961,298,645
Per student expenditure $8602.58 $8205.43

It should be noted, these numbers represent a “top level” funding and employee count, rather than an actual representation of where and how the money will be spent. So while the “per pupil” and “per employee” numbers seem to be going in the wrong direction, the reality of that will be determined by how the real budget works out…and some deeper digging into the guts of the numbers.

This represents the lion’s share of education funding for the County, but a true picture of education funding won’t be available until the six municipalities present their budgets to the County Commission. How those six seek to claim the remaining 20.6% of county money could possibly be an interesting fight.

University of Memphis

One budget I haven’t paid that much attention to in previous years is the U of M budget. But its an important one, that represents nearly $500m in spending in the area.

This year’s budget represents the first full year of re-prioritizing the University in the image of interim President Brad Martin…whom one must assume is acting on behalf of his friend and former employee, Gov. Bill Haslam.

What’s not certain is if the faculty will endorse the proposal, or if tenured members of the faculty will use their relative safety to fight back against these budget cuts and other proposed changes to the University.

Of course, tenure or not, a certain level of caution should be exercised, as the State government has shown a great deal of disdain for tenure generally (particularly in public education) and probably wouldn’t hesitate to change the rules to suit their desire to quash anything that challenges their supermajority status.

This will be a new area for me this year, but I think its as important as anything. The future of the U of M will play a big role in the future of the County.

The City of Memphis is set to release its budget proposal on Tuesday, so nothing to report there right now. Also, if this year follows previous years, the proposal itself won’t look much like the final budget, as priorities and funds are shifted.


A Commercial Appeal article published after Thursday’s Democratic Mayoral Debate, quotes District Attorney candidate Judge Joe Brown as saying he’s something akin to a political boss. Brown was answering a question about the value of his endorsement in the upcoming May primary.

Here’s the actual quote:

If you’re a candidate, is there some value in having Joe Brown on your side? Are you hearing that a lot?

“Yes. In other words, who’s going to make the tough decisions? Alright, you want to do this, you want to do that. You can either work it out yourselves or if you can’t, I pick who I’m going to support. When I support you, that is important to your candidacy. … I’m not going to endorse in every race, but when there’s a big knock-down, drag-out, I’m trying to” — he was interrupted here by a well-wisher.

“So in other words, I smooth it out,” he said, returning to the conversation. “It’s called being boss.”

You view yourself in that role?

“No, that’s what they want,” he said.

Who? Bryan Carson?

“Sorta, kinda,” he said. Then, he characterized how the party talked him into running for district attorney, and his reasons for seeing opportunity there against incumbent Republican Amy Weirich. – via the Commercial Appeal

There’s no question that DA candidate Joe Brown could play a major role in the outcome of the August election. But some things are far less certain:

1. Brown’s influence on a May primary in which he has no competition. The May primary election has historically had incredibly low turnout.

2. The balance between Brown’s influence and the organizing efforts of the three Mayoral candidates (along with the other candidates in the primary contests).

3. Brown’s actual role as a boss.

Shelby County Democratic Party Chair Bryan Carson had this to say about the latter:

“He doesn’t have a role,” Carson said, adding a few moments later, “he has no influence on the Shelby County Democratic Party.”

So, not a boss?

“That was his characterization,” Carson said. “What I did, we needed a candidate for the top of the ticket.” – via the Commercial Appeal

I have a big problem with the characterization of anyone as a “boss”.

First of all, the bosses of old had patronage jobs to toss around. While this is still the case (to some degree) the depth of that influence has diminished in a world of greater scrutiny and dwindling budgets.

Secondly, Brown not only has no such jobs to dole out, but also hasn’t really been involved in local politics in any measurable way until recently.

Finally, the notion of a boss is a rally point for the opposing party. August is set to be a sleeper…except for local races, and for Brown to give the County GOP anything to rally on other than their slate of candidates isn’t particularly helpful.

But there’s another reason…the idea of a “boss” gives the perception of corruption…because of all of the things I listed above. That’s something we really don’t need.

We don’t need a return to the era of “bosses”, despite what some seem to think. The “boss” era in Memphis politics may be looked back on as a golden age, but it also set up all kinds of trouble that we’re still dealing with. More than I care to get into at this point.

Truth be told, there is no one in elective office in Shelby County, with the possible exception of State Sen. Mark Norris that has the political power to be called a “boss”. The political power structure is too diffuse to sustain such a person.

Further, I would argue that no elected official is seeking or could in any way lay claim to the title. There’s too much dissent, and not enough carrots or sticks being used to execute such power.

So while the notion of a “boss” and the perceived power and stability that title might hold for some may seem attractive, it just isn’t likely to happen here again. That’s something that presents both a challenge for the future, and a net positive for those who are willing to forge alliances to get needed things done in the community.

Unfortunately, there remains a “boss mentality” in the area…something that will take a long time for us to get over. The kind of “Stockholm Syndrome” that many feel for the era of bosses, and the new era of the unspoken “bosses” that play a large role in anointing political leaders in the area, is a bigger problem to deal with.

That’s another post for another time. But suffice it to say, we don’t need another boss, and Brown, even if he may think of himself as one…isn’t one.

Jan 10 2014

Reality Check: “Is crime really down” in Memphis? – Part 2

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, Policy

Tuesday, I sought to answer the question that many are asking…”Is crime really down in Memphis?”, like we’ve been hearing it is for the past few years.

And at least for violent crime, the answer is no…its not down enough to call it a trend, though it is down from the 2006 high that is commonly cited.

Violent crime may get the headlines, but property crime makes up the vast majority of instances of crime every year.

So, for a little perspective, I thought we should look at property crime as well.

Below is a graph showing the instances of property crime from 2003 to 2012 using the FBI Uniform Crime Report stats from those years.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 8.16.38 AM

As I noted in my previous post, a real downward trend would show a blue line with a steady drop, and a red line somewhere in the middle.

This 10 year look seems to show that, though 2009 and 2010 show the largest drops.

Understanding why property crime dropped so precipitously in those two years means looking at the individual categories…Burglary, Larceny-theft, and Motor Vehicle theft.

You can see those three charts below

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click each to enlarge

If you look at all three of these graphs, you see what appears to be a steady decrease in property crime when measured against the 10 year average…especially in two segments: burglary and motor vehicle theft.

In fact, measured against those averages, 2012 saw a decrease in burglary of 14.5%, Larceny-theft of 13.5%, and motor vehicle theft of 48%.

Calculations of the median against 2012 net a similar decrease.

Measuring each sector against the rate from 10 years ago nets similar results in Larceny, a 25% drop in burglary, and a 65% drop in motor vehicle theft.

So it seems to me that it is fair to say property theft is down over the past 10 years.

Reality Check: Is property crime down? – Yes

The next question is why?

For burglary and larceny, the answer is a little more complicated. But for motor vehicle thefts its pretty easy…opportunity has dropped.

There are a ton of articles that deal with the precipitous drop in motor vehicle thefts, nationwide, over the past decade…and all credit the advent of “smart keys” as the primary reason (here’s one from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area…which has a relatively high rate of mv thefts compared to the national average).

In fact, when looking at the total decline in property theft across these three sectors from their high points…MV theft comes in second and accounts for one third of the total decline, despite the category being no more than 15% of all property crime…even at its high point.

The advent of smart keys as a deterrent played a big role in the decline of one segment of property crime. Those smart keys decreased opportunity and increased the probability that a person would be unsuccessful in their end game…profiting from the theft of a car.

So we can glean from this that “opportunity” and “consequences” play a large role in whether or not a crime is committed.

Of course, that raises the question of why this is seen as an “opportunity”. And it should cause us to question why someone would do this in the first place despite the “consequences”?

That answer is harder to come by…but there are two primary schools of thought…and those schools of thought are pretty well enmeshed with how an individual views the world in general.

And guess what? That’s going to be the topic of the next post on crime!

Reader Note: This is a long an complicated subject from this point on, and, in all honesty, I’ve only started writing this post (or series of posts) so it may be a couple of days before the next update. Stay tuned!