Memphis Police Director responds to neighborhood war zone

By Ursula Madden - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Just in case gunfire interrupts their sleep, Shawana Farmer and her two children, Jesshawntis, 7, and Monterio, 11, often sleep in the same room.

"If we're all together when I first start hearing it, I have a better chance of making everybody get in the floor at one time," Farmer said.

Sharing a bedroom is just part of the routine.  Farmer keeps her children indoors nearly all the time, doing her best to keep them entertained.

"As long as I'm in the house, we feel a lot safer when we are enclosed together," Farmer said.  "I know where they're at, they know where I'm at.  And if I hear something I'm able to get to them."

It is part of the family's self-imposed lockdown in a neighborhood that is often plagued with violence.  Action News 5 did a crime track of a quarter-mile radius around the intersection of Vollintine and Watkins in the Klondike neighborhood.  In the last month there have been one aggravated assault, one homicide, one rape, eight burglaries, one robbery and three cases of domestic violence.

A recent murder happened just behind the Saint Courts Apartments, right next to a neighborhood watch sign.

Farmer said after that murder that she no longer felt safe in her neighborhood.

We showed Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin how Shawana Farmer and some of her neighbors were living.

"Disappointed," Godwin said.  "The disappointment comes from any citizen who feels they have to lock themselves in their home."

The Klondike community is home to at least four gangs claiming turf.

An Action News 5 Investigation two years ago conducted with the Shelby County Sheriff's Department showed the delicate battle lines drawn in the small zone between Vollintine and Jackson to the north and south, Watkins and Bellevue on the east and west.

The Saints Court Apartments, where Shawanna Farmer lives, sit at the corner of Vollintine and Watkins, up the street from where a man was gunned down in front grocery March 19 and where a stray bullet hit a passenger on a MATA bus.

Godwin said the department is chipping away at Klondike's crime problem.  In late 2009, officers began targeting gang members and drug dealers.

"You'll see something coming down soon," Godwin said.  "We did some undercover work, some covert work, and we purchased drugs from over 40 drug dealers in the Klondike area."

Godwin also pointed to Operation Street Sweep 25, conducted on February 25 of this year.

Fifty-two people were indicted.  Officers made 34 felony arrests and 44 misdemeanor arrests.

In addition to the arrests, officers recovered 62 grams of crack cocaine powder, 358 grams of marijuana, and multiple guns.

Godwin said his officers could fight crime better in Klondike if people in the community would report what was going on.  He said since March 1, the department has only received eight calls in that area.

"It's not like we're getting flooded with complaints in that area," Godwin said.  "But that doesn't mean things aren't going on.  They aren't calling us.  We haven't forgotten Klondike, we're still working Klondike."

Last weekend, a smaller street sweep netted one felony arrest and nine misdemeanors.

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