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According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, "approximately 1.4 million gang members belonging to more than 33,000 gangs were criminally active in the U.S. as of April, 2011." This statistic is especially apparent in Memphis, where rates of violent crime among youth continue to remain high. Many of these violent crimes involving youth are gang-related, with the Shelby County Sheriff's department reporting the identification of 8,400 gang members involved in 182 gangs and gang sets within Shelby County.

Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong: Parenting Key In Combatting Youth Violence

Toney Armstrong, Director of Memphis Police Department in his 12th floor office at 201 Poplar.
Candice Ludlow
Toney Armstrong, Director of Memphis Police Department in his 12th floor office at 201 Poplar.

Often kids who end up joining gangs are boys being raised by single moms in poor neighborhoods, says Toney Armstrong, the Director of the Memphis Police Department.  And Armstrong says that’s his story, too.

“You know, I’m from a single parent home,” Armstrong explains, “[I] never knew who my father was.”

Armstrong grew up in North Memphis, where crime and poverty remain stubbornly high. 

Armstrong credits his mom with keeping him out of trouble. 

“My mom was very, very determined to be—although I say one parent, she was determined to be two,” Armstrong continues, “She was determined to be a father when [she] had to be and not be a mom.”

Armstrong became the head of the police department last April.  He says his childhood informs his police work.  “Initially, living in apartments, living across the street from Dixie Homes, it made you connected, it made you grounded,” Armstrong says.  The Dixie Homes housing project was demolished several years ago.

But Armstrong says bringing down crime in the city is “a parenting issue.”  He says lack of parental involvement is the reason that most young people turn to crime.    

With that in mind, Armstrong has decided to bring back the Metro Gang Unit and community policing.  He wants his department to get more involved in the neighborhoods that are crime-ridden, which can be tracked utilizing the Real-Time-Crime Tracker that was instilled under the former police chief.  Armstrong says he’ll launch the new community policing effort in the next couple of weeks.

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