Fresh from his 12-0 confirmation by the City Council yesterday, new police director Toney Armstrong dropped by the Midtown Republican Club meeting to introduce himself.
The 22 year law enforcement veteran quickly showed why he was so unanimously approved. Speaking sincerely, Armstrong showed himself a thoughtful and committed officer. He assured us that he will retain what has been working, programs like Blue Crush, sky cameras and working with the Memphis Police Foundation for extra funds from the private sector.
“Things that keep me up at night are whether I am doing enough,” he said. Balancing a budget in a time of downsizing (“We are in budget season right now and we will have to cut 10%”), keeping officers motivated (“There have been pay and furlough cuts”) and having enough staff (“The city has annexed areas and we’ve grown”) are tough issues. “It’s extremely challenging to get the tools we need to fight crime,” Armstrong also noted. “When criminals get released they get creative,” he said, noting that they have seen what the system has and how it works.
But the biggest problem he has is the community.
“People won’t get involved. We need citizen participation. 95% of our officers will show up and do their best, but only 10% of our community will do their part. Years ago we had more porches. Neighbors would sit outside and you knew your neighbors, their kids and if they were up to something. Criminals recognize us – we have our uniforms on. It’s a partnership and we have to get back to people.
“You know the African saying ‘it takes a village’? Well, the village has been broken.”
That’s why community outreach is a big issue for Armstrong. “Tech is great, but it can’t do what I’m doing now. I want people to know that I am approachable. We have to be able to brand ourselves better, especially to kids.”
Director Armstrong was asked if the West Precinct in Midtown was moving. “I sure hope so,” he said. “We’ve outgrown it. It’s even an issue for citizens to get in and out of there and onto Union easily as well as officers. There isn’t much space. We lease part of that property now. It would be cheaper to build one. The new precinct will be at Crump around the interstate and the interstate will make it easier for squad cars to get to a crime quickly.”
To those who worry that the move will mean less protection for Midtown, Director Armstrong will work to see that doesn’t happen. “My mother and mother-in-law both live in Midtown,” he said with a smile.
Even though his four years in homicide were hard, he said, “people help you through. The most enjoyable part of this job is meeting people.”
Armstrong wants the public to realize that things inevitably go wrong and problems occur. “I need you to understand that there will be storms. But we’ll do what we have to do to make the sun shine again. We need your prayers, understanding and a relationship.”
After his visit and talk to our club, a better, safer city looks possible. Listening to him you can’t help but feel good about living in Memphis again.