A Black Lives Matter supporter faces a police officer during the 2016 Interstate 40 bridge protest in downtown Memphis. Photo by Andrea Morales

The city’s search for a new Memphis Police Department director has narrowed and a nomination from Mayor Jim Strickland should be forthcoming in a matter of weeks. But some say the search has cut out substantial community input. 

Last week, the city announced seven candidates for the job, which pays current Police Director Michael Rallings $230,000 annually. Three currently work for the department, two were fired from previous jobs and one was recently forced out. Alex Smith, Memphis’ chief human resources officer, told a City Council governmental affairs committee Tuesday that the search included a community survey sent out to over 300 people as well as input from individuals selected by Strickland.  

“We really would love to incorporate every person that we could, but we have had to narrow the focus in terms of how to engage different community members,” Smith said. “The mayor has made the determination of who is going to be involved.”

Candidates for the next police director, left to right: Joel Fitzgerald, Sharonda Hampton, Samuel Hines, Anne Kirkpatrick, Michael Shearin, Joseph P. Sullivan, Perry A. Tarrant. Photos courtesy City of Memphis

On Thursday afternoon, the City of Memphis’ Twitter account shared the names of those who will be interviewing the police candidates. Smith said Strickland will have a nominee for the council to vote up-or-down on by its April 6 meeting. 

Additionally, Smith recommended sending an email if you have a question for the candidates. Reach the mayor’s office here. 

Turns out, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism knew some folks with questions for the candidates. We asked nonprofit and religious leaders, activists and youth what they would ask if given the opportunity. 

MLK50 lightly edited questions for clarity and style.

Cardell Orrin 

Stand For Children Tennessee

What is your approach for addressing violent crime that does not involve an increase in police officers?

How do you think the police department should engage citizens when they are exercising their right to protest? Can you give an example of a positive interaction with a protest that you have had?

How do you believe the police director should engage with citizen review bodies such as (the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board)? What powers should review boards have? Do you believe that the police director should generally accept recommendations from a citizen review body and try to address the concerns raised for specific officers and the systems/processes?

MICAH Memphis Youth Council

This group has an active interest in the search for the next MPD Director

What role do police officers play in tackling Memphis’ rising homicide rate? 

How would you handle sexual assault cases within the police force? 

How would you handle the backlog of rape cases and rape testing kits currently still in evidence?

If you were chosen, how would you make yourself unnecessary?

Wesley Dozier 

Just City

Last year, we heard calls from the Memphis community to “defund the police.” Do you think that public funds should be divested from the police and invested into other community resources? As a public servant, how will you respond to the voices of the community uplifting the ‘defund movement’ and ensure that their voices will be heard?

Rev. Cetrea Jimerson,

Saint Andrew AME Church & Community

What are your views on the 8 Can’t Wait initiative?

What are your thoughts on transparency with regard to the community being made aware of reports on officers who have multiple complaints, but are patrolling communities?

If you are a candidate that is a resident of Memphis, why are you the best choice for the position as director, giving specific consideration to our community needs?

If you are a candidate that is not a resident of Memphis, how do the previous communities you have worked compare to Memphis, and how did they help prepare you to serve in Memphis?

Amber Hamilton

Memphis Music Initiative

What specific tools and tactics would you employ to ensure that MPD is an anti-racist organization?

How would you attempt to work with the police union in order to ensure that the union does not become a barricade to weeding out officers who have a problem with racial incidents?

Theryn C. Bond 

Activist, former City Council candidate who was tear-gassed during a 2020 protest 

What do you consider a de-escalation tactic?

Has there ever been a time where a counterpart has violated policy? If yes, did you report your counterpart and what was the consequence?

What are you prepared to do should officers violate excessive force policies? How seriously will you take excessive force complaints? 

Have you ever used lethal force? 

What do you think about residency requirements for police officers?

Are you willing to sit down with trusted community activists for the purposes of implicit bias training? 

Would you be willing to participate in a public town hall with the community before a selection is made? 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that it was unclear who Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland had selected to interview the candidates for Memphis Police Department director. The City of Memphis’ media Twitter account shared the names of the interviewers late Thursday afternoon.

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

Got a story idea, a tip or feedback? Send an email to info@mlk50.com.