Memphis police chief is open to ‘peacekeeping force’

Nearly a month after a school shooting in southern Memphis, the city’s police chief is rethinking the way law enforcement communicates and responds to threats to school safety.

“I’m new here and hope to make sure we have communication protocols that help intercept any potential violence in schools,” Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said on Wednesday during a briefing. virtual question-and-answer session. with journalists.

Davis, who in June became the first lady to lead the Memphis Police Department, said she was open to the creation of a district police force or a “peace force.”

As the department tries to provide “timely and relevant” information on safety issues to schools, Davis said her goal is to work with administrators to prevent crises – not just to respond to them.

Davis said she would continue conversations with Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris Ray and former Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong as they lead a review of district security practices and consider forming a peace force. This force would be made up of armed school resource officers rather than sheriff’s deputies who currently police Shelby County schools.

With these talks underway, “we certainly support any type of new initiative that could help support public safety in our schools,” Davis told reporters.

Former Superintendent Kriner Cash first pioneered the idea of ​​the District Peace Force in 2008. Ray revived the proposal in 2019, arguing that the district would be more effective in controlling the behavior of officers if they came under. directly from the school system. At the time, school board members said they were not sure a peace force would improve the treatment of students. The proposal lost ground – until the shoot last month.

Armstrong will help the district explore the idea of ​​moving to a peace force during the district’s review of school safety policies, Ray noted earlier this month, the strength focus would focus on restorative practices and relationship building with students.

But any peace force proposal would need the support of the school board and, potentially, state lawmakers. Tennessee does not explicitly allow districts to create their own law enforcement agencies, nor does it prohibit it.

A recent discussion about creating a district law enforcement agency also comes as a divided Memphis school board continues to reflect on the district’s deal with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. Of the 125 armed officers patrolling Memphis schools this school year, 45 are deputies to the county sheriff, the district said in August.

The memorandum of understanding, which calls on the district to contribute $ 50,000 for the use of 36 school-based deputies, has sparked heated community debate.

Almost 700 community members wrote letters administrators and school board members demanding that the district end its contract with the sheriff’s office, arguing that police in schools feed so-called school to prison pipeline, which disproportionately criminalizes black and brown children. And many students, parents and advocates have urged the school board to spend the $ 50,000 on counselors and social workers rather than law enforcement.

April report of the Brookings Institute found that school police criminalize teenage behavior, turning the class break into a truancy charge and the graffiti on the bathroom walls into a charge of vandalism. And data from the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights shows that school resource officials are more than twice as likely to fire black students for prosecution compared to their white classmates.

Regina Clark, an activist with the education organization Stand for Children Tennessee, recalled the experiences of her children attending schools in Washington DC during a shooting.

“At no time have law enforcement in schools saved lives,” Clark told the school board on September 28. “What will make them safe is having counselors in the school so they don’t get traumatized and keep going through mental health issues.

While Memphis school board member Billy Orgel subsequently expressed support for the current collaboration with the county sheriff’s office, several other board members took issue with this, saying he did not appear to heed the comments from hundreds of community members.

In the end, the council chose to send the deal back to committee, and the debate continues.

A neighborhood investigation presented to school board members this week found that nearly 60% of the nearly 12,000 students surveyed in Grades 4 to 12 said it was important that a law enforcement officer – qu ‘whether it is a school resources officer or a sheriff’s deputy – assigned to their school. And about 70% of those polled said having an officer in the school made them feel safe.

The district’s agreement with the sheriff’s office will be resubmitted to council in November.

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