FOX13 Gets Real About Police Reform in Memphis after Summer 2020 protests

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It’s been more than a year after dozens of peaceful protests, demands for transparency, and calls for accountability in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

But what has really changed in Memphis?

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Protesters had a long list of demands for the city of Memphis and the police department.

“I don’t feel like we made a difference, even though we got justice for George Floyd,” said longtime community activist Frank Gottie.

He was one of the protesters in the streets last summer.

“There’s still hundreds of families out here still fight for justice, so we can’t be like, we won or it’s the end of the police killed us – nah,” said Gottie. “You know, I don’t think anything changed in Memphis, with the mayor, the city council, not nothing.”

Gottie was even included in meetings with Mayor Jim Strickland, then-police director Mike Rallings and a select group of clergy and protest leaders to discuss police reform.

“It was like a political thing. That’s all that I seen, really, because ain’t nobody reached out to me after the meetings. Ain’t nobody say ‘hey Frank what you think about this change or have you seen any change?’ Nobody reached out. Because nobody really, it just was in a moment thing,” said Gottie.

FOX13 Investigates reviewed police reform recommendations, resolutions and ordinances adopted since last summer.

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In response to protest demands, the city adopted the “8 Can’t-Wait” recommendations aimed at reducing the excessive force with these eight policies, including banning chokeholds, shooting at moving vehicles and requiring officers to intervene when they see a colleague doing wrong.

The city pledged to provide more implicit bias and cultural sensitivity training for officers and strengthen the civilian law enforcement review board, or CLERB.

Most recently, the Mayor’s Advisory Council compiled this 68-page report with several recommendations including mental and emotional wellness checks of officers and collecting data and analyzing the differential treatment of people based on race.

“I want to see it work. If they are going to work, I want them to show us that it’s gonna work because, from my recognition, I just can’t see it happening for real.”

This spring, then-director Rallings announced a policy change requiring all sustained charges of excessive or unnecessary force by officers are submitted to the Shelby County District Attorney general’s office to review for possible charges.

“We listened. We heard what our citizens wanted from us so we reacted,” said Rallings.

FOX13 talked exclusively with Rallings in his first interview since retiring from the department.

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Under his watch, the city and MPD launched a new online dashboard with accusations of police misconduct, excessive force findings and records of firearm discharges.

But the dashboard doesn’t allow users to search for specific officer names or even get more information about all the officers involved in these cases.

“When we launched the dashboard, we said that there was a start. Again, you know, it’s an electronic format that can be, it can be changed and edited and updated to what the public is looking forward to but for a start,” said Rallings.

Rallings said reimagining police will take more community insight.

“Reimagine (policing) means that we look at what’s going on in the nation, look at what new legislation may come down and look at what the public is asking us to do. Because at the end of the day, we serve the public and the public can dictate the level, the type, and the quality of police service that it wants,” said Rallings.

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The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office also announced a new “duty to intervene” policy directing deputies to intervene and report the use of excessive force by another deputy.

County commissioners passed an ordinance requiring the sheriff’s office to get approval before buying military equipment like the shock shields that weren’t used on anyone, but deputies had them at a protest last summer.

“That really prompted us to say, you know, where are these, where’s this equipment coming from? And how do we get this equipment, and is anything that we can do to make sure that we are taking measured steps when the county acquires this equipment,” explained Commissioner Van Turner.

Turner, who also leads the local chapter of the NAACP, admits policy can only go so far.

“We can put all the laws into effect that we can muster. But we really have to change the hearts and minds of those who are patrolling the streets day in and day out,” he said.

Gottie believes that kind of reform can happen with more community policing.

“They need to know the community they’re policing anyway; don’t just drive by and come to work you know. Protect and serve. Jump out and see how the people doing,” said Gottie.

The city said the advisory council is providing a set of recommendations for the mayor. They will meet with the mayor and new police chief CJ Davis.