Behind the Headlines – September 16, 2016

Behind the Headlines – September 16, 2016


(female announcer)
Production funding for
Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by.. – Police Director Mike Rallings
tonight on Behind the Headlines. [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher of
The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining me. I am joined tonight
by Michael Rallings, newly appointed police director
for Memphis Police Department. Thanks for being here. – Thank you for having me. (Eric)
Along with Bill Dries,
senior reporter with The Memphis Daily News. You were named
interim in February. You got the job
about a month ago. We’ll talk about
all kinds of things, even towards the
end of the show, a little bit of time looking
back on being up on the bridge in the summer and all of that. But right now, for the
first part of the year, you know, the real headline
has been the murder rate. Violent crime as a whole, I
think the most recent numbers.. It’s leveled off. It’s up a little bit, one
percent or so from last year. But the murder rate is
up 40 or 50 percent. You know, why is that? What is your take of why that
murder rate spiked so much and what can you and your
officers do about it? – Well, you know, the answer to
the first part of the question, I think that we’re all trying
to figure that our across the nation. I’m a member of the Major
City Chiefs Association. Last I checked, 44
cities, major cities, have spiked in
homicides this year. Last year there were probably 30
cities that had a spike and we didn’t. So, working with
Major City Chiefs, other agencies across the
nation and also the FBI. We’re kind of diving into what
is pushing our violent crime. Locally, you know, the
legislature has not helped us with guns in cars. I kind of share that everywhere
I go because access to guns, gangs, drugs, more violent
subculture within that group I think has led to our
increase in homicide rates. Recently, we found out that
probably 42% of our homicide victims are gang members
or have gang affiliation. So, we’re taking a deep dive
into that working with the University of Memphis to look
at five years of homicides so we can instead of just
coming up with anecdotal data, that we can really look at
it and have some specifics. Partner with the academics to
look and see what we can do to change it. – And I think I’ve heard you say
that most murders are between people who know each
other, is that correct? – Without a doubt. – And so, is there a strange way
in which people listening should feel somewhat safer in the sense
that if you don’t know someone who is selling
drugs, doing drugs, I mean kind of
engages in a gang member, that although the media puts
these murder headlines out there, I mean what is the
message that people who aren’t engaged in gangs,
drugs and so on? – The message to
everyone is to be safe because, you know, somewhere between
18 to 20 percent of domestic violence related. So, these are people
that are family members. They’re engaged in
sensitive relationships. Some of them are married. We just saw recently,
you know, girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife. So, I think that, you know,
yes, I agree with what you said. But I think that as a community
we have to make a decision on what type of life
we want to live. And I think that there’s so
much attraction to violence. It’s on TV. It’s on reality TV. It’s in sports. It’s unfortunately
in the legislature. We see congressmen
and senators, you know, talking about violence. And we see some of it spilling
over to our national election. So, we as a country, as a
community need to decide what we want to do, what’s acceptable. The level of violence
for me is unacceptable. We should all be outraged. – Bill? – You talked about the
percentage of homicides that involve gang members or
some kind of gang affiliation. Is that higher than
it’s been in the past? – I’m not so sure we really have
dove over to that in the past. That’s something we started
looking at very hard this year. So, unless.. You know, that’s what the
five-year study is about. To go back and look and really
do a deep dive in homicides. – And the reason I bring it up
is because Chicago has had a tremendous problem. And one of the things that
people there have talked about is that the
discipline, if you will, among the gangs or the kind of
tension that gang leaders have been able to diffuse or block
off ha somewhat disintegrated and people think that’s an
element of what’s happening in Chicago. – I can agree with that. I was in Chicago probably a
month ago meeting with Chicago police and a number of other
police chiefs from around the nation. And those are some of the
things we talked about. What we’re seeing
now is there’s no.. The traditional gang
structure, we’re not seeing. There are a lot of
hybrid gangs of, you know, a
mixture of gang members. So, the traditional challenges,
the traditional responses that we’ve had, we’re going to have
to look at them and come up with something different to respond
to this new type of involvement that we’re in. – what were some of the
traditional responses that you think are going
to have to change? But traditionally you would do.. – Well, if you got a
gang with structure, okay? Then you can, you know, really
look hard at the leadership at that particular. But if you got a whole
mixture of gangs just kind of.. – Maybe they say they’re
more affiliated but they’re not necessarily a hierarchy in
the way gangs used to be. – Yes. – So, a lot of discussion over
the last couple of years about the number of police. There were a lot
of people who left. I think the police force
maxed out around 24– or 2500. Mayor Strickland ran on that
he wants to get back to that number. He’s talked about it
since he’s been in office. To you, is there a magic number? I know Strickland has said
2400 and that’s your goal. But to you, I mean,
what is that number? – 2500 without a doubt. I’ve been a police chief
of uniformed patrol to both districts. I started in 2009. I was trained commander in 2008. The number is 2500. Some people debate it. But again, they haven’t been in
the trenches like me and these men and women have. – What does that do for you? If you had a magic
wand and you had, what would that be? Four or five hundred more
police officers tomorrow. What would you do different? – Well first of all, we’ll have
adequate staffing to run our day-to-day operations. I mean, that’s critical. With the addition
of police officers, you know, we have
five priorities. One of them is
community outreach. We could do more
community outreach, have a higher police presence,
focus more on gangs and target kind of our top four crimes
to make our community safer. You know, every day I talk
about us not having staff. But every day we get more
requests for police officers. So, you know, to respond to
what the community wants, then we need to have
staffing to do that. – So, I think there was just a
promotion ceremony this week as we speak. Promotions are on the way. Last I heard, the academy class
started at around a hundred and was down to 24, which is a
problem that I think all police directors have faced because you
can start out with a hundred. But you’re usually not going
to get a hundred in an academy class to go on to the streets. – Yeah, Bill, I’m not sure where
you got those numbers from. Our goal was a hundred and
we started somewhere in the forties. So, you know, our
attrition rate, you know, runs between
ten to fifteen percent. You don’t want everybody
to start and graduate. There’s probably something
went wrong with the program. But again, we’re
looking at everything. We’re looking at what
we’re doing in recruiting and retention., We’re looking
at what we’re teaching, what our curriculum is, what we
cna do to attract good men and women to the Memphis
Police Department. – How do you think police
recruits people who say I want to be a police officer? How are they different from
when you made that decision? – You know what? I’m not sure if they’re
fundamentally different. You know, I’m 50 now. So, I joined when I
was in the twenties. So, definitely my eyes and what
I know is a lot different than when I started. However, you know what? In talking to the recruits
and talking to the PSTs, you know, these individuals
are still committed to making a positive difference
in the community. They’re standing up
to the challenge. You know, our last class, I’ve
spent a lot of time with them. I’m able to talk to them and
thank them for their commitment, thank them for their sacrifice,
thank them for their desire to do something
different than others, you know, may aspire to do but
may not be qualified to do it. So, I think they’re
fundamentally the same. I think the nation is different. You know, we have mass
media, social media, 24-hour news cycle. There’s more scrutiny on law
enforcement than I remember any time in my career. So, we have a lot of challenges. But we still have men and women
that are ready to step up to the challenge. – Does the faster
pace of how things move, does it change the notion of
patrolling and is community policing as a result
of that, as a goal, is the nature of
community policing different? Because there is that
kind of connection. And word on the street
travels much faster. – First, we have to define
what community policing is. Because, you know, it means
different things in different parts of the country. So, it can even mean different
things in the city depending on who’s asking. So, everything is different. You know, police
officers are wearing body cams. We have 400 in
car video systems. We’ll have fully deployed our
body cams before the year is out. You know, there’s
cell phone video. There’s video everywhere. And like I said, the level
of scrutiny is different. So, yes, it changes the
behavior of the police officers. It definitely changes the
behavior of the public. But, you know, we want officers
to get out in the community. We want them to meet people. You know, sit and talk. It’s a challenge when you
answer a million calls a year. Two million calls come
into our 911 call center. So, we’re one of the
busiest places in our region, if not the busiest. And we have to try to
figure out what that balance is. And that’s why that staffing
question you asked earlier is so important because staffing
allows you to respond to the high volume of calls. It allows you to respond to
the crime and it allows you to respond to the
needs of the community. – Politicians will
say that legislators, city councilmen, come to me
when you don’t have a problem. Let me get to know you
before you have a problem. Is that part of what
you’re talking about, that if you have more
police on the streets, they can be out, they can
see people when there’s not a problem. They can get to know people so
that when that call comes in, there’s more of a connection? – Yes, without a doubt. – Scrutiny, you
talked about scrutiny. Some of that, a lot of
that comes for Ferguson, what happening in Ferguson and
this whole national conversation and national spotlight on
police shootings and the role of police. Your take on that? I’ve heard people describe quote
the Ferguson effect two ways. That one, for police it makes
them hesitant and it makes them hesitant to respond. They don’t know what kind
of scrutiny they’re under. They don’t know what kind of
doubt and skepticism they might face. And then it also potentially
has an effect on people who in communities that
see a lot of crime, they don’t have a
trust in the police, that that’s another way o
defining the Ferguson effect. Do you see either or both of
those things as a result of all this scrutiny of what’s the
proper role of police and when police can and
should shoot someone and, you know, draw
their weapon and so on? – You asked me a
couple questions. – That whole debate. – Let’s start at the top. You know, Director Conley came
out strongly talking about the Ferguson effect. So, you know, there’s a number
of individuals kind of diving into that, trying to see
is that a real effect. So, let’s just look at it
from a common sense standpoint. If anybody is scrutinized,
every single move they make, everything they say, everything
they do is scrutinized to the level that we see
law enforcement, it’s going to impact the
decisions they make and the performance of their duties. Law enforcement is more
responsive to change, more responsive to criticism
than almost any incident in the United States. You know, we are accountable
to the people we serve. So, we think about what
happened after Ferguson. Let’s look at it just from a
strictly economic standpoint where we’ve seen
many, many more protests, which means that we’re
devoting resources to protest. Those resources are
not in the community. They’re not doing their normal
patrol duties because they are responding to protests. Think about the almost eight
million dollars spent just in Ferguson alone
during those protests. You know, you think this year
we spent at least eight million dollars on the various protests
that we’ve had in our protective posture after we’ve seen
eight police officers killed. Biggest attack on law
enforcement since 9/11. That affects your
ability to police. Talk about body
cameras and, you know, all the cell phone video. But what I would ask people to
do is when there is a incident, allow an
investigation to go through. You know, we call for a DOJ. We call for all these things. We call TBI to
investigate our shootings. So, allow the
investigation to go through. Let’s review the facts. Where changes need to be
made, we’ll be responsive. We’ll address those
and make changes. – For you and for your
officers, body cameras, you mentioned, those
are rolling out delayed, but they’re rolling
out sometime this year. Does that give a police officer
comfort or is it because there’s a back up to what
they say happened? This is what happened. This is what my camera shows. Or does it make them feel
monitored and hesitant? What’s the reaction among most
police officers to having a body camera on? – Well, I’ll answer
your last thing first. We’re sitting on live TV. So, everything we
do is monitored. So, you know, if we
sneeze or drop the ink pen, the whole world would see it. So, yes, it makes
them feel monitored. But when I talk to
officers on the street, talked to an officer the other
day and I saw he had his body camera on him. I asked him how it was going. He said, I love it. I was kind of puzzled. I wasn’t
expecting that from him. I said a couple more
things and he said, love it. I said, wow. Why do you love it? He said, it keeps us accountable
and it keeps them accountable, too. I had a guy waving a cell
phone in front o my face. Said, I’m recording
you, I’m recording you. And he said, well sir, I have a
public service announcement for you. I’m recording you, too. He said the guy
suddenly calmed down. They were able to talk about
whatever he was there for. So, again, we’re
definitely embracing body camera technology. The officers that I
talk to love them. – Let’s talk about the police
department’s response to the protest that we’ve seen. I’ll start with the
candlelight vigil at Graceland. There was some discussion about
who was responsible for what there. Your police department in
determining who was a protestor, who was there for the vigil. What did the officers rely on
in terms of that judgement? – Well, you know, first, there
is some pending litigation or could be. So, I really want
to talk about that. What I want to
talk about it that, you know, we had a plan where we
would work at Graceland to keep that event safe. We had a number of
threats of protests. And it wasn’t we’re
going to protest. It was we’re going to
disrupt that candlelight vigil. And so, I’m proud of the
response the men and women of the Memphis Police Department,
Graceland Enterprises had to keep that event safe. Just yesterday I
received a card from someone, I think form England that was
here visiting and thanked us for our presence, our ability
to keep that event safe. So, again, I’m
proud of what we did. I’m proud that we
walked away from that day, no one hurt, very few arrests. And Graceland was intact just
as it was before we started. – So, do you think there was
a threat beyond what actually happened there that evening? – Great question, Bill. Think about what’s
happened over the world. Nice, France. Truck runs down fireworks, kind
of a Fourth of July celebration like we see here,
runs over, you know. You know, I can’t remember how
many people were ran over and killed. So, we’re on Elvis
Presley Boulevard, a major thoroughfare. So, we were worried about that. We’ve seen international and
domestic terrorist attacks. We’ve all forgotten that
49 Americans were killed in Orlando. Biggest attack on
America since 9/11. Well, I don’t forget
about those things. You know, we just celebrated
or commemorated the 15th anniversary of 9/11. The country has been
at 15 years of war. So, the threat of
international terrorism is real. The threat of
domestic terrorism is real. The threat of violence is every
present and it’s our job to respond to that,
to mitigate that. Keep our visitors and our
citizens safe and that’s exactly what we did. – Is there a point at which
you look at the preparations for these events knowing that
there’s going to be some kind of protest? Is there a point at which you
look at the preparations and say, I think we maybe too.. Is there such a thing as being
too visible in terms of the police presence when you
have that kind of a situation? – Well, there’s a
balance, you know. First of all, we don’t know
every single thing that people are planning. Let’s take Southern
Heritage Classic. We had a very heavy police
presence in and around the stadium, in and
around the tailgates, in and around Beale Street
because we want our visitors and our citizens to come
enjoy venues and be safe. So, public safety is something
we work on every single day. We’re going to remain vigilant. We’re going to do
what we think is good. And there’s always a balance
and you have to decide what that balance is. But when you have, you know,
threats that are articulated, you know that there’s the
ever-presence of kind of unrest or violence because, you know,
you may decide that you’re going to protest, you know, not
parking on the grass or being up another recent one. Someone else may come up and
have a weapon or have a more nefarious plan that
you’re not partied to. But when you get people
gathering and there’s a threat, it’s our job to stand
there and protect people. Protect their right to protest,
protect their right to assemble. We just want everything to be
done lawfully and in order. – What has the dialog been like
since July 10 when we had the bridge protest, kind of the
really important moment in the whole discussion of this? Has the discussion been able
to continue between you and the protest leaders or
what’s that dialog been like? – There have been a
number of conversations. So, you know, the
Mayor’s taken a lot. I want to applaud the
Mayor for his openness, his responsiveness. We have responded to every
single thing that the protestors have put on the table. We will continue the dialog. I’ve met with anyone who wants
to meet and we will continue to do those things
because, you know, like I told on the bridge. Okay, bridge is shut down. What’s your next goal? What do you want to accomplish
in the next 30 minutes to the next hour? And Director, we want
this, we want that. I said, do you think we’re going
to accomplish that standing in this bridge? And my thing was simple. We can’t talk on this bridge. It’s not safe. There are children up here. There are women. There are men. The bridge is made
for cars and trucks. It’s not made for
pedestrian traffic. We have to get off this bridge. That’s exactly what we did. We can talk ’til we
are blue in the face. But once you protest, you got to
come to the table and talk and work out and say,
okay, what do we want. What are the goals? How do we get there? Because that is a process. – We got just five minutes left. We can talk about the
bridge a whole lot more. But I’m going to shift
on because right now, the marijuana ordinance the
city council has proposed to decriminalizes certain
amounts of marijuana. You’ve been opposed
to, at best weary, of this ordinance. Is that a fair way to say it? And tell me why. Tell me your concerns
about the ordinance. – I have a number of concerns. First of all, as
the police director, I’m not going to
promote marijuana smoking. We have an epidemic of
drugs sweeping the nation. We can line up folks on both
sides of the table and talk about is
marijuana a gateway drug. Well, I tell you what
I see on the street. So, on the street, you know,
marijuana becomes a secondary. When an officer
makes a stop, sees guns, you know, a person has warrants
and they have marijuana in their pocket. Or officer makes a stop,
individual rolls down the window, marijuana
smoke comes barreling out. So, that’s just from what we
see and the interaction with marijuana. The second point is, you know,
someone said it the other day. And, you know, if
you’re standing, sitting at home,
smoking marijuana all day, get up in the morning and smoke,
it’s going to be very hard for you to be productive. I want to encourage young
people to seek employment, gain employment and
maintain the employment. Marijuana probably is not going
to help you outside of that subculture where
drug use is okay. We’re in a heroin epidemic. We have over 70
deaths from heroin. So, when I talk to
people that are doing rehab, drug rehab specifically, they
talk about how marijuana gets people to a tougher drug. Start smoking marijuana,
may graduate with the pills. From pills maybe to heroin. – I don’t think anyone would
debate that heroin and pill and crack epidemic that
the country has seen. Cocaine. But, you know, certain states
have legalized marijuana at this point. And that seems to be the
trend in the country is that, you know, more and more states
are legalizing it saying that that’s just not an issue. It’s like alcohol. People can abuse alcohol. They can abuse alcohol. Alcohol can lead to alcoholism. But you see a more
direct connection. – Yes, very poor comparison. The jury is still out. At one time, we
believed the world was flat. And people would not go out and
venture so they wouldn’t fall off the side of the earth. So, we need to really
slow down and let the jury, you know, come out and see. Because in Colorado, they’ve had
increases in DUI where marijuana was the drug of choice. They’ve seen increases in
violence related to marijuana. But let me get back to the
ordinance since we’re here in Memphis. You know, originally the
ordinance did not allow the option of discretion. The officers ability to
have discretion is critical. That was changed. I still have, you know, a little
apprehension about the amounts. – Discretion to do what? And I apologize
for interrupting. – Discretion to go with a
state charge or issue a city ordinance. Because the thing about it is
the officer on the street has to look at the circumstance. So, you know, is the marijuana
packaged for individual sale? Is there a gun? Are there other charges where
one court should hear the whole thing versus breaking
it out in other courts? – Just a couple of minutes left
and we talk about a show about the issues I’ll
bring up right now. Part of the motive of Martavius
Jones on the city council has said that this is partly to
take some of these small level offenses that disproportionately
affect African-Americans, particularly young
African-American men, and start them down the
road of criminal justice. Take away for the
second the path to heroin. But just small
amounts of marijuana. They liken it to taillights. Three hundred dollar fines. Suspended licenses. All those small offenses
that begin to pile up fines, begin to pile up
a night in jail, two nights in jails. And does, from your point
of view as a police officer, does there need to be reform
of those small offenses that, again, so many
people are saying, look, this is hitting the
African-American community particularly hard. – Well I’m
African-American if you noticed. I am concerned about
everything that impacts the African-American community. I’m definitely committed
to reducing the amount of African-Americans that
enter into the criminal justice system. So, the only thing I ask for
is let Nashville figure out how this is going to run. Give them time to work it out in
terms of their ordinance that’s moving through metro. Metro and Memphis are two
different entities because Metro has a consolidated government. Memphis, you’re talking
about general sessions court and you’re talking about city court. But the other issue is just
to make sure we have robust conversation, we bring everybody
to the table so we make an educated decision. – We are out of time. We could have talked about
that for 20 more minutes. Thank you for being here. Thank you, Bill. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [theme music]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *