The Memphis Police Department is introducing an eight-officer unit that will arrest unaccompanied minors who sell food, play loud music, are “inappropriately dressed” or dancing in the street in Downtown Memphis, a PowerPoint presentation obtained by The Commercial Appeal said, and a video from the department later confirmed.
The unit, called the Juvenile Crime Abatement Program, is described as a response to “an influx of juveniles gathering on weekends in the Downtown Entertainment District.” The presentation cites that more than 60% of thefts in Downtown Memphis can be attributed to minors, but does not compare that to the thefts around the city.
“To combat this problem, N. Main Station has created a Juvenile Abatement Team to address juvenile truancy, curfew violations, and other criminal activities committed in the downtown area,” the presentation read. “Officers will professionally encounter any person that appears to be a juvenile who is not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.”
The team is listed as being comprised of one lieutenant, two sergeants and eight officers, though a chart next to that breakdown — naming each officer, sergeant and lieutenant assigned to the unit — only names one sergeant.
One member of the team is also slated to be a plainclothes officer stationed on the roof of the AutoZone building on Front Street who would “identify criminal behavior.”
Although aiming to prevent juvenile thefts, the presentation named some vague, and subjective, reasons for approaching minors.
“This team will monitor juveniles and young adult pedestrians for illegal activities to include, but not limited to, solicitation of candy or food, handing out flyers for donations, playing loud music, inappropriately dressed [sic], dancing in the street and other activity deemed inappropriate, or actions that disrupt the harmony of the downtown community,” the presentation said.
According to the presentation, after a minor is arrested by an officer, MPD would reach out to the Shelby County Juvenile Court, if necessary “for further investigation or summons.” If the court will not take the minor, then they will be taken to the North Main station and their parents will be called. When parents, or a legal guardian, pick up their kid, they will be given a summons.
If parents or a legal guardian do not pick up their child — the presentation gives no concrete time for this pick-up to be completed — MPD will contact the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to “take custody of the juvenile offender.”
In bold, highlighted words, the presentation says: “Officers will not transport juvenile offenders to a residence.”
If DCS does not take the child into custody, the presentation says, “Supervisors will then petition the court to bound the juvenile over to the State of Tennessee and pursue charging the parents for child abandonment.”
Cardell Orrin, the executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Stand for Children, said the unit’s goal of preventing crime sounds like a repackaged version of stop and frisk, or a real-life attempt at recreating the Pre-Crime Unit from the dystopian science-fiction movie “Minority Report.”
“It’s like the Pre-Crime Unit from ‘Minority Report,’ but that movie had psychics — some basis for a possibility of a crime,” Orrin said. “This is all just extrapolation based on identifying these behaviors, these things kids do, and saying, ‘We’re going to stop you.’ Once you get kids in the system, then you start to connect to this narrative of the revolving door — and now we have to keep them in the system for as long as possible so they don’t offend again.”
He also said targeting minors for a subjective concept like “inappropriate clothing” is a coded criminalization of Black culture and Black youth.
“When I was younger, and on the East Coast like Philly and New York, walking around with super baggy jeans on was inappropriate because you could be carrying anything in your clothes, or you’d be accused of trying to steal something,” Orrin told The Commercial Appeal. “It’s just shifted language, which is on the same pathway of how to criminalize mostly Black youth, or Black culture for the youth.”
The Commercial Appeal obtained a copy of the presentation three days after the Memphis City Council passed an ordinance that attempts to limit the Memphis Police Department’s ability to stop drivers for “secondary violations,” which are vehicles with expired registration within 60 days of expiration; when a temporary registration permit is improperly located, but still clearly displayed; when a registration plate is not securely fastened, but is clearly displayed; when a single light — including brake lights, headlights or running lights) — is out; and loosely secured bumpers. These are commonly referred to as pretextual stops.
Orrin said the Juvenile Abatement Team has pieces of pretextual stops, and specialized units — which were put under a microscope following the brutal beating and later death of Tyre Nichols by officers from the Memphis Police Department.
“[This unit] has threads of pretextual stops. It has threads of specialized units, since this is specifically focused on young people in the Downtown area,” he said. “It’s an issue waiting to happen. How police are going to punish these kids, and potentially their parents, and the people who are around you — it’s going to compile. We need to ask if there are positive ways that we can influence young people Downtown. This isn’t that.”
The Memphis Police Department did not respond to a list of questions from The Commercial Appeal, but posted a video on social media introducing the unit.
“This program will address the aforementioned crimes, along with curfew violations and other criminal activities committed in the downtown area,” said MPD Colonel Dennis McNeil, who is named as the last person to save the file in the PowerPoint presentation’s details.
Deputy Chief Don Crowe said in the video that the program will help maintain “peace and order” in the Downtown area.
“The Juvenile Crime Abatement Program is committed to providing a safe environment, safe from juvenile delinquency, by maintaining peace and order,” Crowe said. “We will create an environment primarily for adult patrons after hours, free of unruly juvenile behavior and mischievous activity. We will monitor curfew violations, arrest juvenile offenders when necessary, and hold parents or legal guardians accountable for the presence and actions of their children in the downtown area.”
Crowe’s and McNeil’s comments echo similar sentiments to the PowerPoint presentation, but do not include some of the “illegal activities.” The video also makes no mention of the plainclothes officer stationed on the roof of the AutoZone building.
Lucas Finton is a news reporter with The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.