MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Spirited debate about law enforcement reform in Shelby County consumed meetings of the Shelby County Commission on Wednesday.
Three different items are on the table in ordinance form, which means there will be three readings for each and likely up to six weeks of impassioned debate.
“We can support law enforcement, but we don’t have to over-militarize law enforcement,” said Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner.
The three ordinances made their first appearances before the county body Wednesday.
“My constituents have sent me emails wanting their law enforcement to have every tool in the toolbox they could possibly need,” said Shelby County Commissioner Amber Mills.
One proposal, pushed by Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, would limit county law enforcement from receiving military equipment unless there is public notice and Shelby County Commission approval by a super-majority of nine votes.
Officials from the mayor’s office said Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner does not currently participate in seeking out such equipment and wanted to codify a policy for future elected officials to follow.
A second proposal would prohibit public safety officers from deploying chemical agents like tear gas on protesters and ask that chemical agents not be used excessively within correctional facilities.
A third disqualifies applicants to the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office with a history of termination for excessive force complaints, calls for the office to revoke POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) certifications for those disciplined or terminated for excessive use of force, and establishes a tracking system for public safety officers terminated or disciplined for use of excessive force.
A representative from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office at Wednesday’s meeting said terminations of any kind (including resignations under threat of termination) are an immediate disqualification for employment with the county.
Commissioner Tami Sawyer is a sponsor of all three and indicated the reform conversation is long overdue.
“I don’t have a problem with law enforcement. I’m not blaming every single officer. I am saying if the community does not have a conversation with police, if we do not agree to some reforms that work for us, we are going to be in even more dire straits,” she said
Sawyer and Commissioner Amber Mills sparred through the day, with Mills later directing a message to law enforcement.
“You’re being made out like villains, and the narrative has been that you all are villains, but you all are heroes,” said Mills, “And I want to take this moment to thank you for doing the thankless job you do every day protecting us.”
Sawyer offered a rebuttal.
“I’m not going to continue to address whether or not I like police officers. Police officers have saved my life. That’s not what this is about. This is about a shift, a change, that is happening in cities and states and countries across this globe, a necessary shift and change," Sawyer said.
Commissioners took no committee votes on any of the items Wednesday, all sending them to Monday’s full meeting without a recommendation.
Sheriff Floyd Bonner is expected to be at the meeting Monday where more thorough discussion is expected.