MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - On average this year, nearly one Memphis Police officer a week has been arrested and charged with a crime. But, the city's top cop said the standards for new officers are good and there's no need for changes.
The real world is pretty ugly, and cops see all that ugly up close and personal. Temptation is everywhere: drugs, money, and possible intimidation. Police Director Toney Armstrong tells new recruits all about it.
"As director, I address all incoming recruit classes, and it's something we make them aware of," he said. "There are a lot of trappings that come with this job. You have a lot of responsibility and you have the ability to affect a lot of lives."
The job is the only one in the world, outside of the military, where people get to carry weapons, get to use force, and pretty much do what ever is needed to do in order to keep the peace.
The trouble is one bad cop can hurt an entire department.
This year, in just five weeks, four officers have been arrested and charged with crimes ranging from assault to possession of drugs. Some of the officers involved were hired at a time when all you needed was a high school education to be hired.
Director Armstrong said, "There was a time that we lowered our qualifications, that high school was sufficient enough to come on to the police department. There was a concern about the quality of applicants we were getting, and now it's back to two years of college."
Memphis is a city where crime still gobbles up the oxygen. Even with a drop in the violent crime rate, there are sections of Memphis where fear is a factor in everyday lives. It's a fact. Still, at this point, Director Armstrong thinks he's getting pretty good people applying for the job of Memphis Police.
"Well we think we've done what is necessary for us to get what I like to call the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the brightest of the brightest."
More than 2,400 men and women work the streets of Memphis as police. The trouble is some of those people went bad.
"I won't say it's a part of any specific class. You're looking at individuals. The police department is made up of people that have the ability to make decisions. And it appears lately we've had some officers that have made terrible decisions," Armstrong told abc24.com.
One cop was charged with stalking his ex-wife. Another officer was charged for buying cocaine, which he put in the trunk of his squad car. With a DUI charge here, an assault charge there, pretty soon it adds up to a department that loses its credibility.
If people don't trust the police, there's really nobody left to trust. Toney Armstrong knows that.
He said while the recruiting standards are tougher now, he and Mayor A C Wharton are looking at other options.
"The mayor and I are in constant communications about how we can improve our hiring practices. So as additional information becomes available that allows us to become better, we will make those necessary changes."
Bad cops don't just show up in Memphis. One of the most famous cases happened in New Orleans several years ago when one officer was charged with murdering another cop.
There will always be bad police officers, Armstrong said, and it's his job to find them.