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Officers and property owners encouraged by slowed crime levels, but urge public to be cautious

Despite the recent on-campus crimes, particularly one regarding an armed robbery, the University of Memphis Police Service reports that February was an average month regarding incidents of crimes reported to the department.

Derek Myers, the UofM Police Service's Assistant Chief of Police, said the campus area crime rates are slightly lower than the rest of the city mostly due two departments patrolling the area. Myers said the victim was able to provide information about the suspects who contacted her online, which detectives were able to use to collar the juvenile and adult suspects in a timely fashion. Per standard law enforcement policy, Myers would not say specifically what techniques easily led investigators to the suspects.

“We don’t want to give bad guys any ideas,” Myers said.

Regarding the recent armed robbery, the UofM Police Service wrote a report concerning a summary what happened during the incident and what progress has been made in the investigation:

“On 02/11/2020 F at 3:10 p.m., officers responded to a robbery complaint at Patterson and Alumni Street. A student advised she placed an ad to sell a book. She advised she met the buyer at that location and got into the vehicle to complete the transaction. Once in the vehicle, one suspect presented a handgun and demanded her belongings. They took her backpack, struck her in the head, and pushed her out of the vehicle. One defendant was taken into custody on 02/12 and charged accordingly. A second defendant, juvenile, was taken into custody on 02/13 and charged accordingly."

Myers said the most important thing is for students to be observant.

“I'm worried about every student I see walking around with their heads down, glued to these small electronic devices. It's not just not looking where you're going, the majority of students are in their own cocoon, walking around while having earbuds or headphones on, which is dangerous,” Myers said.

Coordination with the Memphis Police Department is fundamental to policing on campus. Myers said the UofM Police Department and the Memphis Police Department have a formal “mutual assistance agreement,” which requires both departments to work closely together primarily by sharing all data, one of the most common examples that greatly assists in locating vehicles of interest for criminal involvement.

Barry Marshall, one of the most decorated career law enforcement officers in Memphis and Shelby County, has worked in every division at the Shelby County Sheriffs Office since 1977. Currently, he is not only a reserve motor officer for the city of Memphis,  but also the second-generation co-owner of “Security One,” which operates across nine states primarily in the Southeast, and is considered the most visible private security company in the city  

Marshall says the county, city, UT health and UofM campus police do an excellent job coordinating, but must continue finding ways to improve work together, for example, on jurisdiction.

“It can be confusing for dispatchers to respond to areas covered by multiple departments. If there’s a disturbance at a restaurant on the highland strip, for example, that can be a potentially complicated decision,” Marshall said.

But according to Marshall, the most important factor in fighting crime is a proactive public. Marshall says not to hesitate reporting even the smallest irregularity.

“Don’t get in the middle of it, but you have to call us; we listen. Sometimes, the least little thing solve crimes, anything: a package, a box, a strange person. If you see something, say something,” Marshall urged.

Marshall said that the departments do an excellent job, and the area is safer than it has been in his forty-plus year career in both public and private law enforcement.

Local real-estate business owners  around campus are cautious but likewise generally positive about the level or crime around campus. Not all crime is adjacent to campus is included is relayed to the university.

Josh Bell, who has lived in Memphis for fifty years, has owned the Norriswood Townhomes across the street from Centennial Dormitory for 18 years, and has only had one incident.

Furthermore, Bell said the previous owner was a UofM professor whose wife managed the property. They never had a criminal incident at their complex from 1973-2002, when they sold to Bell.

Bell’s record is more than just luck. He says safety is about individuals being proactive.

“I don’t know whether it's luck or if it's good management, but you have to be proactive,” Bell said.

Bell said the most important thing he does to prevent crime is prohibit unauthorized parking. He also said he does everything possible to not burden a young student financially with towing, and leaves warning notes the first time. Despite the heavy foot and vehicular traffic from Centennial, he said he hasn’t experienced any problems.

“I’ve got no-parking signs everywhere,” Bell said.

Last week, Bell had to enforce his policy in spite of his sympathies towards students who needed to park.

“I was a poor college kid myself, so I try to avoid towing. But if you ignore my warnings I have no other choice, because there’s only enough parking for my tenants,” Bell said.

According to Bell, the other factor that keeps crime down around his area is vetting his prospective tenants, and added that he always has a wait list.

“I don’t discriminate against anybody, but if they don’t have enough income I can’t rent to them," Bell said. "I try to rent to people who say what they're going to do and do what they say, and most of them are students. The biggest problem I might have is a party going on late at night out in the parking lot waking up my senior residents, but they usually shut it down once I let them know."

As a matter of fact, the only incident in the history of the Norriswood Townhomes happened just two weeks ago, according to Bell. He said it appeared that the perpetrator forced entry through the trunk, removed the back seats, and stole a CD-player.

“This was my first incident, period, and the first incident in the history of the apartments,” Bell said.

Local real estate developer Clayton Kempker oversees the acquisition and construction of several major mixed-use retail developments in midtown and said while crime on the outskirts of campus should be a higher priority for law enforcement, it would not deter him from investing in the area.

“It’s a solid investment in terms of return, because demand is high around campus, but I would certainly have to invest additional resources in private security,” Kempker said. 

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