Yesterday, Bartlett police officers ventured into North Memphis to serve a drug warrant, and ended up killing 43-year-old Malcolm Shaw, who may or may not have been the person being served with the warrant. The killing immediately stirred up a firestorm of controversy, as well as a rebellious crowd of hundreds in the neighborhood. Most of the defense of the Bartlett police online has centered around the dead man being a criminal who pulled a gun on police and thus deserved to die (although I always thought warrants were served to bring people to court for trial, and that, until convicted, a suspect is not a criminal), and that the Bartlett police legally do have the right to serve warrants in Memphis under Tennessee law. However, as a resident and taxpayer of Bartlett, I am not concerned with whether it is legal for Bartlett police to serve warrants in Memphis, or whether they followed proper procedure. I believe it is in the best interests of Bartlett and its citizens to restrict Bartlett police to working within the city limits of Bartlett only. Here are my reasons:
#1. Safety of the citizens of Bartlett: No one can argue that there is no alternative to Bartlett police serving warrants on people in other jurisdictions. Memphis police or Shelby County sheriff’s deputies are available and willing to do this for Bartlett. While Bartlett officers are out in another jurisdiction serving warrants, there are fewer officers inside of Bartlett keeping us safe. Our officers should stay here protecting Bartlett, which they are paid to do, and leave the serving of warrants to the duly-constituted law enforcement agencies of the jurisdiction where the suspect lives.
#2. Liability: The city of Bartlett (and thus its taxpayers) is legally responsible for the actions of its police officers. Thus, if someone is killed while the officers are outside the jurisdiction of Bartlett, and the officers’ actions are found to be negligent, the taxpayers will be stuck with paying out a large settlement to the victim’s survivors.
#3. Safety of the officers themselves: Defenders of the Bartlett policemen’s actions yesterday keep pointing out that the incident could have ended the other way, with the suspect shooting and killing the officers. Although Bartlett police face this risk within the city of Bartlett also, they face a greater risk when taken into other jurisdictions where they have less familiarity with the surroundings and less experience. It cannot be argues that policing Bartlett and policing North Memphis are the same. Clearly, Memphis police would better know the neighborhood, and have a better chance of serving the warrant with everyone coming out alive.
#4. Avoiding negative publicity and controversy: The Memphis metropolitan area has a problem with racial conflict and racism. It annoys most of us, but there seems to be no easy way to solve it. For better or for worse, the Bartlett police (like other suburban districts) have developed a reputation for being racist. It ultimately does not matter whether that reputation is deserved or not, since it is the opinion of most Black Memphians that I know. If the Bartlett police go into Memphis and kill a suspect, the incident immediately takes on racial overtones that it would not if a sheriff’s deputy or Memphis policeman had to kill a suspect, even if it happened while serving a warrant for Bartlett.
Given the above argument, I think that those of us who live in Bartlett should ask Mayor McDonald to order a change in the BPD’s warrant policy. It will ultimately be in the best interests of everyone involved.