MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Law enforcement reform has been a major point of contention for this board since this past summer’s protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police officers.
“We’re in the middle of not just the pandemic related to COVID-19 but in 2020 across the country and right here in Shelby County we’ve recognized a pandemic of racial injustice,” said County Commissioner Tami Sawyer.
Monday the Shelby County Commission finally passed an ordinance in a 10-3 vote limiting the amount of military-grade equipment Shelby County Sheriff’s Office can receive from the federal government through the Department of Defense’s 1033 program.
However, the sheriff can receive military equipment such as rescue vehicles in the case of a natural disaster.
Any other request for military equipment must be approved by the commission by a simple majority vote within 14 days of the request being made.
“With division and fear this was pushed for six months,” said Commissioner Amber Mills who was one of the commissioners who voted against the ordinance.
Mills and others said the ordinance was unnecessary considering Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner has already declined participation in the federal government’s program to receive military equipment.
According to a WMC Action News 5 Investigation done last year, the SCSO did have a Mine Resistant vehicle known as MRAP in its possession in 2017.
However, Bonner said in September that the vehicle is no longer in its fleet.
Some commissioners say this ordinance will set a standard for future sheriffs to come.
Chief Public Defender Phyllis Aluko appeared before the commission as a private citizen but serves on Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s Reimagine Policing task force.
She told commissioners during public comment that this ordinance is about building trust.
“I’ve learned through the role on the advisory council the public is very concerned about transparency, accountability, about reducing excessive force and about improving community relations. This does all of that,” said Aluko.