In the wake of recent protests, Memphis officials have agreed to some initial policing reforms, including a stronger Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) and an updated Memphis Police Department policy requiring officers to “take reasonable action” to intervene if they witness criminal or abusive conduct from a fellow officer.
Thursday’s press conference announcing various measures follows weeks of meetings between local activists, Mayor Jim Strickland, Police Director Michael Rallings and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner.
One priority for activists was securing independent subpoena power for CLERB. The city has agreed to lobby the legislature to reverse a 2019 law stripping review boards statewide of their ability to subpoena information and officers in their investigations of police misconduct.
The law does allow city councils to subpoena on the behalf of review boards, but the Memphis City Council and CLERB have lacked coordination. Some council members have even been at odds with the board, calling for it to be disbanded.
Interim CLERB Chairman Pastor Ricky Floyd hopes for a more team-like mentality moving forward.
“We have a community that is holding everybody more accountable right now,” Floyd says.
While Floyd praised Rallings' commitment to discussions, he says MPD needs to view CLERB as an objective accountability service that helps build public trust.
“There needs to be a CLERB boot next to a police boot, next to an activist boot,” he says. “The same way [an officer's] job is to protect and serve citizens, we are an extension of that by protecting and serving the citizens by making sure that you’re doing what you’re committed to do.”
The city also intends to fund a part-time CLERB position to provide community engagment for the board. Funding will also give the board a communications budget.
At the conference, Rallings rejected claims that he has been unfairly dismissive of CLERB’s past reviews and recommendations on police misconduct cases.
Rallings also outlined a list of police reforms known as the “8 Can’t Wait” agenda, adding that many were already long-standing policies. A ban on choke-holds has already been in place, for example. He noted an exception to the tally—in “acts where deadly force is authorized,” officers can still shoot at vehicles in Memphis.
The department has also banned “no-knock warrants.”
“We are listening. We are moving forward,” Rallings said. “We cannot stand idle, and we must continue to work together.”
He said the public can expect more sensitivity training for officers that involve community organizations as well as further discussions with the Memphis Police Association about policies regarding officers and the use of excessive force.