Attorney General Bill Gibbons speaks to the Midtown Republicans.
“I don’t think any community has to accept high crime rates,” was one of the messages delivered by Bill Gibbons at last night’s Midtown Republican Club meeting.
The District Attorney General certainly hasn’t. In his few years in office, Gibbons has had a hand in dramatically reducing crime in Memphis. “Many don’t realize how much progress we have made,” he said. “Since 2006, we’ve seen a 30% drop in major crime. We are ahead of the national curve in the amount of reduction in crime and we’re now out of the top ten list of cities for crime.”
His conclusions come from a long career in justice. Gibbons learned a lot from the experience of New York City in the 80s and looking at what other attorneys general offices have done.
His good work got noticed in 2005 when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Gibbons, plus officers from four other cities, Charlotte, NC; St. Louis County; Atlanta; and San Francisco, were recruited to form a task force to help New Orleans deal with the aftermath of the disaster in regards to the criminal justice system.
“There were problems there before – disarray – but after the hurricane evidence was lost, files were destroyed and buildings were under water. Eddie Johnson, the man in charge in New Orleans, resigned the day before. The interim DA had been in office just a few hours when we got there.
“However, all five of us new what worked and we agreed quickly on what to do,” Gibbons said.
What he learned he compiled in a new book, “No Surrender! A Battle Plan for Creating Safer Communities.” The proceeds are going to the National District Attorney Association, specifically for their research division.
From his experiences Gibbons sketched a basic plan for attacking crime. “I looked at New York, Virginia and Florida which had passed tough laws and sentences. I found they had a dramatic impact. First, you get crime off the streets. Then, when criminals know they’ll be dealt with seriously, fewer people commit crimes out of fear. New York saw violent crime rates cut in half in five years. ”
“I’m a big believer, too, in drug treatment for non violence drug offenders with repercussions if they don’t follow the program. If they do, chances are 70% that they will not be a repeat offender. Without drug treatment, the reverse happens and 80% do repeat the crime,” Gibbons found.
In Memphis he has effectively used the nuisance law in prosecutions. “It was passed during prohibition. We took it off the shelf, dusted it off and used it at establishments that were primarily being used for drug houses. We’ve closed 280 places under that law so far.”
In addition, mandatory sentences for those using guns in crimes is having an impact. “In 2007 we indicted 7300 people. Tennessee also is in the forefront in meth labs. We are asking the General Assembly to make pseudephradine a prescription drug. Two states, Oregon and Mississippi, have done it and there has been a dramatic reduction in meth,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons is hoping to get the word out that crime can be reduced and that Memphis is becoming a better place. With him at the helm, it looks like it will continue to improve.