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A Prospering Memphis Because of Public/Private Partnerships to Reduce Crime & Youth Violence

Why should diverse partners work together to create violence-free communities?

Challenge

Memphis is a city with a history of having some of the highest crime and youth violence rates in the country. They understand firsthand how this distinction hampers their community goals, including maintaining their vibrant businesses and tourism industry and attracting new families and companies to the area. Violence destroys quality of life and diminishes the freedom, health, and prosperity of individuals, families, and communities. Public safety is not a stand-alone problem; it is linked to a city's economic health, quality of education, and other community goals. Accordingly, lower rates of crime are essential to the increased economic growth and prosperity of a city.

Solution

Recognizing the connection between economic growth, public safety, and quality education, in 2006, former Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, Jr. (current City of Memphis Mayor), former Memphis Mayor Dr. W. W. Herenton, Memphis Tomorrow, and the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce joined forces and convened a diverse array of partners to develop a plan to accelerate economic growth and improve quality of life. The plan, Memphis Fast Forward, featured job creation, improved education, reduced crime, and government efficiency as essential ingredients for future prosperity.

"Memphis crime rates have plummeted since we started Operation: Safe Community. While government-driven efforts tend to come and go with the elected leaders who spearhead them, because Operation: Safe Community is a partnership of government and private sectors leaders, academia, faith organizations, grassroots and the like, it has not only been sustained for four years but it keeps getting stronger and stronger."

City of Memphis Mayor, A C Wharton, Jr.

The crime reduction component of Memphis Fast Forward was developed by a team of leaders from government, law enforcement, academia and business, with the input of faith organizations, public education, service providers, and neighborhood and grassroots groups. Called Operation: Safe Community, the crime reduction initiative is a 15-point plan featuring both law enforcement and intervention strategies.
Six key practices responsible for bringing diverse leaders and sectors together in Memphis and keeping them committed to this work include:

  1. Involvement by the highest levels of government and law enforcement increases participation by leaders from other critical sectors.
  2. Demonstrating how crime reduction is an economic imperative helps to engage business and economic development leaders who might not see their role in addressing youth violence and crime.
  3. Development of a high quality plan contributes to partner confidence. Operation: Safe Community has strong credibility because it is based on good data and evidence-based practices, has clear goals and metrics, assigns accountability for implementation, and was informed by broad community input, local experts, and leading practitioners.
  4. A leanly staffed 501c3 intermediary organization (Memphis Shelby Crime Commission) with a diverse, high-profile 50-member board of directors/partners provides a politically neutral roundtable to regularly report implementation progress, facilitate problem solving, and refine the plan, and celebrate success.
  5. Data sharing among partners, supported by local University of Memphis expertise, is integral to regularly reporting progress and refining community approaches.
  6. Communication of success stories and citizen participation opportunities through traditional and social media by a staffed marketing committee fosters pride in association with the partners' efforts and enhances community awareness and engagement.

Results

With the help of its partners, Memphis moved Operation: Safe Community from a plan to action, and benefits are emerging. With data-driven policing established through the Memphis Police Department, dramatic drops in measures of crime have resulted. Murder rates have plummeted by 40%, robbery by 39%, and overall violent crime by 23.6% (Memphis PD 2006-2010). Memphis has moved itself off of the top of the list of cities with the highest crime rate, and has improved its climate for economic growth.

Next Steps

The Memphis partners believe they have only just begun to strengthen their city, and data are helping focus on the necessary next steps. In Memphis/Shelby County, 54% of those arrested for violent offenses in 2008, and nearly 40% of the victims of murder in 2009, were under the age of 24. The partners are now turning towards strengthening and expanding prevention, intervention, and reentry efforts.

“Crime is a bottom-line issue for our community. All citizens, including our employees deserve a safe environment to work and raise their families. The City of Memphis is a safer place than it was five years ago and is substantiated by the increased economic development investment new companies have made in our community’ recently.”

Bill Rhodes, Chairman, President and CEO of Memphis-based AutoZone, Inc.

The partners recognize the importance of augmenting and scaling up the successful approaches outlined in Operation: Safe Community– including Drug Court, Just Care 180, The Family Safety Center of Memphis, a mentoring program focused on reducing truancy, GRASSY (Gang Reduction Assistance for Saving Society's Youth), Drug Market Intervention (DMI) Initiative, and Project Safeways, a pilot project to decrease crime in southeast Memphis apartment complexes. The next phase of work will have an emphasis on supporting young people and stopping violence and crime before it starts.

As Operation: Safe Community's initial five-year plan comes to an end, the Memphis partners have already begun planning for Operation: Safe Community Phase 2. This next phase is funded by local businesses and the philanthropic community and guided by the National Forum on Youth Violence, which gives direct access to technical assistance from experts at multiple federal agencies, including the Departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing, and Labor Prevention. This work will feature youth violence reduction as a primary goal and will emphasize expansion and strengthening of prevention, intervention, and reentry efforts towards the goal of a safer and more prosperous community.

Contact Information

Michelle Fowlkes
Executive Director
Memphis Shelby Crime Commission
901-527-2600
mfowlkes@memphiscrime.org