The arrests of three Memphis Police Department officers on a combination of drug, burglary, and prostitution charges is the latest in a string of incidents that have tarnished the department’s image, says the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Ranging from thefts of drugs and money from the police evidence room to the arrest of an officer caught transporting more than 100 pounds of marijuana, the record might suggest the Memphis Police Department is deeply troubled, perhaps irreversibly so.
By most standards, Memphis’s police fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum for misconduct at big city police departments. While not so clean as some, it’s far better than departments in cities like Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Detroit, which have required intervention by the Department of Justice. “I think Memphis has a reputation as having a responsive police department, and from time to time they have a problem,” said Ron McBride, the former police chief of Ashland, Ky., ethics chair of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “I don’t think they’re any better or any worse (than other departments).” Another expert, Maki Haberfeld of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said, “Police work is full of temptation. It involves a lot of discretion, a lot of discretion that is invisible (to supervisors).” Experts distinguish between isolated incidents by individual or small cliques of rogue cops and systemic problems that indicate failures of leadership. “The more serious it is, it says something about a lack of accountability and management controls,” said Prof. Sam Walker of the University of Nebraska-Omaha who studies police management. “It takes continued supervision and oversight, specifically when you’re talking about control of money and control of property. It takes a real commitment.”