City spending at least $300K for anti-crime commercials

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Could a public relations firm help lower the crime rate in Memphis?

In a move that aims to combat the crime rate, Mayor Jim Strickland is shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire a public relations company.

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In March, the mayor hired Trust Marketing and Communications to produce and place anti-violence ads on television and radio.  The six-month contract will cost Memphis taxpayers $300,000.

"You have to communicate with people, and unfortunately television stations and radio stations charge money for advertising," Mayor Strickland told FOX13. "We need to use all avenues we can to drive down crime, and this is a proven way to do it.”

FOX13 obtained a copy of the contract between Trust Marketing and the City of Memphis through a Freedom of Information Act request.  Under the terms, the contract can be extended, or renewed twice, which means taxpayers could ultimately pay $900,000 to Trust Marketing.

Since the contract is a professional services agreement, it does not require approval from the Memphis City Council.

The city has hired this company before. In the early and mid-2000s, Trust produced anti-violence ads with memorable tag lines like "chill, don't kill" and "gun crime is jail time."

In some years during that decade, crime statistics dropped, according to the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission.

"Because this sort of same effort was done, eight, nine, 10 years ago and it worked,” Mayor Strickland said when explaining the city’s decision. “And it's part of the Operation Safe Community crime plan, which we're a part of. Because it worked before, we're going to do it again.”

At a time when violent crime and property crime are rising in Memphis, and the city has a police shortage, some residents were skeptical about using taxpayer money to make television commercials.

"I don't think it's a good use of taxpayer money because I don't think the criminals are watching television," Mattie Smith, a local educator, told FOX13. "I really don't think that they're going to be aware of these ads."

Still, the mayor believes this is the correct choice.

"There's always going to be disagreement, but I know it's the right thing to do," Strickland said. "We've done it before. It worked before, and I really do believe most Memphians will understand it."

The contract will be reviewed in August, at which time a determination will be made about renewal.