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Death by road rage: despite efforts by ‘Operation Grizzly Bear,’ problems remain

Despite efforts of Memphis PD and Tennessee Highway Patrol officers, a man was shot on Interstate 40 near Appling Road Aug. 3. Highway shootings, while declining in frequency, remain a concern for drivers including UofM commuters.

A collaboration plan between city and state law enforcement teams called ‘Operation Grizzly Bear’ will place more officers on Memphis’ highways in July. Saturday’s highway shooting was the first reported since operations began.

Sergeant Chris Richardson, of Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP), said that Grizzly Bear operations occur at least once a year. While the service usually focuses on speeding and seat belt enforcement, this year is different.

“The City of Memphis is the primary player on the I-40 loop, the city handles it until we need to help,” Richardson said. “But at the time there were 31 shootings on the loop, so Memphis asked us to come in.”

Richardson said that Operation Grizzly Bear does not entail any unique tactics or processes. He said it is routine work and that it just includes more officers.

While there have been 34 highway shootings this year, data does not suggest a common cause in the incidents said Richardson.

“There’s been arrests in Memphis, but we’re not seeing reason (for shootings),” Richardson said. “Our presence has made people obey the law more, and when people obey the law more, we see fewer shootings.”

The operation has seen success, and the public is appreciative said Richardson. The increased police presence is making an impact with Memphis drivers while on the road.

Kaylyn Nichols, a freshmen theater and production design major, will be commuting to campus for the first time Monday. Nichols, who recently got her driver’s license, welcomes the police presence but is still getting used to driving in Memphis.

“I’m a stickler to the speed limit so the highway can be scary,” Nichols said. “The cops have helped, but some people drive like hooligans in this city.”

Nichols said the police make drivers more aware of their actions. She said road rage is unavoidable, but it’s best to get home safely and avoid any recklessness.

Memphis drivers faced scrutinyfrom a new resident to the city as well.

Garret Blume, a senior exercise science major from Brazil, said Memphis drivers are awful.

“I’m kind of used to dangerous areas in Brazil, I’m not really worried about it,” Blume said. “I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but police seem to be pulling over a lot of people.”

The call for safer driving appears universal. Operation Grizzly Bear is still in effect, but Sergeant Richardson asked the community to “help THP, help you.”

Richardson said the heart-rending consequences sometimes result from unsafe drivers.

“The hardest part of being an officer is ringing a doorbell and telling people their loved one was killed in a senseless accident,” Richardson said. “We hate doing that, so we ask drivers to obey the law and be careful, so we don’t have to.”

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