MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The Memphis Police Association came together with the community Saturday to promote peace.
"We're just trying to make it a little bit easier and develop relationships with the community," said Mike Williams, MPA President.
Business owner Michael Zellner opened up his store, Sleepy Zzz's on Kirby Whitten Road, for the second annual People Police PEACE event.
Zellner said he did it as a thank-you to the city's police officers.
"They're understaffed, I believe underappreciated and underpaid," said Zellner.
The Memphis Police Department is in the middle of a staffing crisis – with the number of commissioned officers remaining on a downward slide – after years of little recruitment.
Right now, MPD has 1,918 commissioned officers. Police Director Michael Rallings has said the department needs 2,500.
Two recruit classes are underway this year, with the second one starting at the end of August. Two more are planned for next year.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland's administration said the 2017 recruit classes could be the first net gain of officers to the department since 2011.
Williams said events like Saturday's can show young people that a career in law enforcement can be a reality for them and dispel rumors of fears they may have.
"Those quality individuals may be more apt to say, let me be a police officer because there are a lot of young people that have dreams and aspirations of being the police," said Williams.
Williams said he's grateful for small business owners like Zellner because community efforts are critical to combatting crime in Memphis.
"Trying to bring unity to the community and bring people together," said Zellner.