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MPD Oversight Committee Faces Skeptical Public

Katie Riordan


A group of independent observers have been monitoring the Memphis Police Department for several months, carrying out a very specific assignment: confirm police aren’t unlawfully keeping tabs on political activists. 

“Our goal is, again, to ensure that the MPD is not violating the consent decree,” said monitoring committee leader Ed Stanton at a community meeting last Thursday. Stanton is referencing a decades-old compact between the city and the American Civil Liberties Union designed to broaden citizens' privacy protections.


The meeting's purpose was to update the public on the committee's progress. So far, Stanton said, MPD has been cooperative, providing requested documents and access to city officials. Despite these reassurances, audience members made clear that a deep mistrust between the public and authorities continues to simmer.      

The consent decree came about following the use of aggressive surveillance tactics by law enforcement in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. 

Last year, a judge said that Memphis police had violated that agreement in the past several years. Among other clandestine activities, they created a fake Facebook profile to engage with activists and collect information on them.  

The court ordered police to rewrite policies regarding the gathering of so-called “political intelligence” and provide training to officers on new protocols, all under the oversight of a monitoring committee.     

Deputy Police Chief Don Crowe told the audience Thursday that MPD will continue to work with the committee. 

“We look forward to their guidance, their input,” Crowe said. “We look forward to their review of our training, our policies and for making improvements where it’s needed.” 

But part-way through the meeting, audience members became wary of note-taking by Crowe and another officer. One audience member even asked to have Crowe’s notes read aloud, which he permitted. The officers were later asked to leave and promptly exited.  

Activist Paul Garner said he appreciates the monitoring committee’s function but remains skeptical of its process.  

“I think what a lot of folks are still looking for is: what [does] proactive monitoring look like?” Garner said. “You know, how deep are they going to dig, and how can we be assured that they’re going all the way with that?”

He, like many others concerned, says there is a need for more public engagement from the committee.  

“I think that was or should have been the major takeaway for the monitoring team is that they are going to have a lot of work to do to explain what their role is and to earn that trust of the community,” Garner says. “That could really make or break the success of this.” 

Will Perry, who provides legal counsel for the committee, says that police monitors are trying to build credibility through transparency. They’ve launched a public website — memphispdmonitor.com

“People want to see what we’ve done, every single report we’ve filed is on that website,” Perry said. “People want to know how the court proceedings have progressed, all the court filings we put on the website.” 

And Perry says, perhaps most importantly, that people are encouraged to submit feedback via the website, with the option to remain anonymous. 

“A big part of the team’s mandate is to gather data from as many sources as possible,” Perry said. “Obviously, the community is the most significant source there is.”

The monitoring team intends hold small group discussions with residents in the coming months.