City councilman pushing for ‘Murder Task Force’ in Memphis

Watch: City councilman pushing for ‘Murder Task Force’ in Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — This year 230 people have been killed in homicides in Memphis. The number means the 2016 homicide record was broken with three more months in the year.

To combat the rising violence, FOX13 learned one Memphis city councilmember is about to propose a solution.

Content Continues Below

The idea is called “Murder Task Force.” It will not happen soon enough to help the family of Herman Wright who was shot to death while sitting in a chair on his porch Sept. 20.

FOX13 counted at least twelve bullet holes across his home, not including the bullets that killed a father, brother, and someone who was liked by his neighbors.

“It makes you wonder what the (expletive) would piss you off that much, that would make you kill someone,” said Shelia Jackson, Wright’s sister.

FOX13 asked if the police department had contacted the family about an arrest.

“No sir,” said Wright’s daughter Shontelle Chauvez. “I don’t know what really happened to my dad. I don’t have closure.”

FOX13 tracked the locations of every reported homicide using the City of Memphis data portal and discovered that almost every neighborhood has a family grieving like Herman Wright’s.

Arresting suspected murderers has been difficult.

Three homicide detectives sent FOX13 figures that show the homicide bureau has closed just over half of its cases.

One issue hindering the number of homicide cases closed is manpower.

In an open records request, FOX13 discovered Memphis Police has 25 detectives assigned to the bureau, that’s the most since 2017.

According to a 2018 National Public Safety Partnership Assessment Report of Memphis Police Homicide and Prosecution, “the national best practice is 5 or 6 murders annually per investigator.”

The data from MPD also shows the average number of cases assigned to each detective is nine, although homicide detectives told FOX13 privately the actual number is as high as 12.

“The harm is that we are having so many homicides in the city that one investigator can’t effectively investigate that homicide before the next one comes around,” said Essica Cage, Memphis Police Association president. “So yes, it absolutely affects how they can investigate, homicides effectively.”

According to Cage, the issue is manpower because “we are short in uniform patrol. We are short in homicide. We are short in traffic. Every division in this police department is short.”

FOX13 emailed Memphis Police six times over the course of more than a week beginning September 22, 2020, for an interview to discuss staffing.

A spokeswoman said the homicide detectives are not available.

Lt. Karen Rudolph referred FOX13 to an interview Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings gave to FOX13 about the record number of homicides this year.

During that Sept. 29 interview, the director talked about the need for more officers.

“We have a lot of manpower, but we could always use more...' to do more community policing and inside our homicide unit,'” Director Rallings said.

To deal with the record-breaking number of homicides, City Councilman Dr. Jeff Warren told FOX13 he wants Memphis and Shelby County to create a “Murder Task Force.”

Councilman Warren said this task force would “include social workers, community activists, churches and our police department to go after and fight urban violent crime.”

Councilman Warren told us whoever runs the task force would help coordinate the efforts used by the U.S. Attorney, Shelby County District Attorney, the Sheriff’s Office, and Memphis Police.

Warren wants social workers and community activists, even some of the people protesting for police reform would be asked to buy into the plan.

“When the police come through, and they happen to see my tags are expired or I have some problem that they can ticket my house for, this group is not involved in that type of law enforcement,” Warren said. “All they are going to go after is a violent urban crime.”

The councilman believes the idea can work after reading the book, “Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequence of Urban Violence” written by Thomas Abt, a former prosecutor, and Obama Administration Justice Department official.

Warren told FOX13 the cost to start the task force would be $2 million and results could take months.

“I am proposing something that will help us get that down,” Warren said. “But it has to be set up. But it is not something where you can say let’s do this. Next week it is going to be great. It won’t happen that way.”

Herb Wright’s family hopes the task force will happen in time to arrest and convict his killer and change their perception of Memphis.

“We honestly thought about moving our family back to Memphis to be closer to my family,” Chauvez said. “There is no way I can see bringing my family back here.”