Posted: 9/8/2006 8:42:41 PM
Two things weigh heavily on 65-year-old Levoe Norris' mind. The South Memphis homeowner worries about his grandson's grades in school. And he's concerned about the city's growing gang violence.
"It's bad," he says. "And I don't know what we're going to do to solve the problem. But it's bad."
Last year, Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin pulled his officers out of the Metro Gang Unit, effectively dissolving the organization.
The Shelby County Sheriff's Department still runs a gang unit, now staffed with just 8 full-time officers.
Director Godwin reassigned his cops to the MPD's Organized Crime Unit, where he says they are making a difference.
"We are attacking the gang problem," he says. "For anyone to indicate the MPD is not addressing the gang problem," Godwin adds, "is an untrue statement."
Director Godwin says thanks to efforts like "Operation Street Sweep" and "Blue Crush", the MPD's CAT Unit (Crime Abatement Team), has successfully infiltrated Memphis gangs.
Last month, he says, the MPD arrested 55 gang members during the largest gang round-up in city history.
"I'm telling you right now," he says, "the gangs are on the run. They don't know who is a police officer and who is not a police officer."
But the MPD's success comes with a price. They've gotten dozens of gang leaders off the street only to have them replaced with younger members who are jockeying for position.
"What we have seen is a break-down in the gang structure in our community," says Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons.
"As a result," he says, "we've had more warfare within gangs and between gangs. And a lot of innocent people have been caught in the crossfire."
So the head of the MPD is urging frustrated and frightened Memphians to hang in there.
"We're not done yet," Director Godwin says. "Just standby. We got some more for those gang members. You're going to see some more. Real soon."
Back in South Memphis, Levoe Norris welcomes tough police action. But he knows the cops can't crackdown on the gang problem alone.
"I think they're doing a good job," he says. "But it's hard to get all those gang members. We're going to have to get the neighborhood to help."