The Marshall Project

Is the Answer to Crime More Cops?

It’s not how many, it’s how you use them.

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE — Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland took office in 2016 vowing to fight the city’s high violent crime rate by beefing up a dwindling police force. His most novel idea: use an advisory body, the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, to funnel anonymous private donations from the city’s elite to reward cops who remain on the force.

His wish list, dubbed the “Blue Sky Strategy” and outlined in emails obtained by The Marshall Project, was ambitious: $48.2 million, including $12.7 million to subsidize housing and private school tuition for police families and $8 million for take-home cars.

So far the fund has channeled $6.1 million into the city budget, most of it for police retention bonuses. FedEx, International Paper and about a dozen other private entities are now subsidizing public safety in a big American city.

The commission has refused to disclose the amount of their individual contributions. “I don’t know how much the different businesses gave,” Strickland said. “I’m thankful they gave money, and if they didn’t want to say, individually, how much it was, then I am fine with that.”

Memphis is unusual in taking money from the private sector to pay cops, but it reflects a popular trope that blames shrinking police forces for violence. Jeff Sessions, during his short tenure as attorney general, played that

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Marshall Project

The Marshall Project7 min read
What Gate Money Can (And Cannot) Buy
Most states give money to people leaving prison. But some formerly incarcerated people say it's often not enough to meet their basic needs.
The Marshall Project5 min read
Can Kamala Harris Adapt The Government’s Airplane-Safety Model to Stem Police Shootings?
The transportation safety board works with federally-regulated air travel. A policing board would deal with thousands of local police departments.
The Marshall Project4 min read
Border Courts Swamped With New Asylum Cases
Thousands of cases have been filed since President Trump started forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico.