Mayor seeks more security after shootings, officer’s death

"(No) city can reduce homicides in five months," said Mayor Jim Strickland, referring to how long his administration has been in charge.

Adrian Sainz, The Associated Press | 6/7/2016, 12:36 p.m.
"(No) city can reduce homicides in five months," said Mayor Jim Strickland, referring to how long his administration has been ...
Cutting the homicide rate is "the single most difficult thing" for city government and the police department to do alone, said Mayor Jim Strickland. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

Mayor Jim Strickland on Monday announced plans to bolster security on the city's highways and in the downtown entertainment district after a man was charged with shooting three people and then fatally striking a Memphis police officer with a stolen car over the weekend.

Strickland addressed media during a news conference at City Hall, hours after 21-year-old Justine Welch appeared by video before a judge in Shelby County court. Welch is being held without bond on charges including the attempted murder of three shooting victims and first-degree murder in the death of Officer Verdell Smith on Saturday night near Beale Street, where bars, music venues and restaurants draw locals and tourists.

Police Director Michael Rallings said the Memphis Police Department family was mourning the loss of a "hero" - slain officer Verdell Smith. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

Police Director Michael Rallings said the Memphis Police Department family was mourning the loss of a "hero" - slain officer Verdell Smith. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

Smith was run over by a stolen Chevrolet Camaro authorities say was being driven by Welch as he fled the scene of the shootings of two people at a restaurant and one person outside the iconic Memphis Pyramid. Welch was trying to elude officers when Smith, who was trying to clear pedestrians from the area near Beale Street, was hit. He died at a hospital.

Police said Welch then crashed the Camaro and tried to run away before he was captured and arrested. He told a judge Monday that his family is trying to hire a lawyer.

Smith is the third Memphis police officer to be killed since August, and the fifth to be killed since July 2011.

Strickland on Sunday expressed anger "at the senseless loss of a dedicated public servant, and angry at the absolutely unacceptable level of violence in our city." Memphis has seen 97 homicides this year, compared with 57 homicides at the same time last year, police say.

On Monday, Strickland said plans are in the works to increase the presence of Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers on highways, saying traffic stops that result in seizures of illegal weapons and drugs could help prevent crime.

The city also is planning to bring in Shelby County sheriff's officers to augment the police presence in and around Beale Street. And, city officials are working with the Beale Street merchants and a downtown business commission to increase security in the area of the famed tourist drag.

"We need your help ..." - Mayor Jim Strickland (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

"We need your help ..." - Mayor Jim Strickland (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

Strickland said he also has spoken with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu about a program intended to reduce homicides in that city.

Strickland said cutting the homicide rate is "the single most difficult thing" for city government and the police department to do alone.

"We need your help at home, we need your help at church and in our street," Strickland said. "We need your help in teaching people how to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence."

Two people, ages 39 and 57, remained hospitalized Monday in critical condition after they were shot while sitting outside the restaurant, officials said. A 21-year-old employee of Bass Pro Shops, which is located inside the Pyramid, was treated at a hospital and later released after he was shot.