This blog’s last post – Downtown Memphis Commission: Get It Right, Not Fast – urged Memphis Downtown Commission to take the time to make the right selection of a new president rather than a fast one.

After all, downtown Memphis needs the best, the most qualified, and the most transformative leader possible to deal with its deteriorating conditions and lack of attention to detail that are now characterizing this crucial city neighborhood and business district.

It seems like the perfect time to identify some people with a national record of success and recruit them rather than thinking an online application is going to attract the best urbanists to take charge of the downtown development agency.

The last blog listed some of the issues that undermine the downtown experience and call for new eyes to find solutions.  Not long ago, two emails were sent to DMC staff and board, City Hall elected officials, tourism officials, business leaders, and others by a prominent member of the downtown community – a resident and a business owner – whose patience and frustration finally reached their limit.

It illustrates the kind of pressure that the DMC should have been putting on city agencies and why it should have been demanding action rather than being content to work under the shadow of city government and so often with an attitude of going along to get along. 

Here’s the first disturbing email and it is followed by the one sent earlier:

“We thoroughly enjoyed your restaurant. However, due to the heavy traffic, road congestion, and what felt like entering road chaos when leaving, we have decided the location will not work for us. Our employees are not going to want to face what we faced when departing downtown.” 

This is an email we received this Monday from a guest who dined with us Saturday evening to celebrate contracting one of our private rooms for a Holiday Employee Party for her company in December. I personally visited with her and her family, and they were incredibly excited to host their employees at our restaurant and left our dining room full, happy and excited to return. She goes on to further explain what she and her family encountered upon trying to leave Downtown. It was just shy of 10pm. 

“…we had to enter a street that was being reduced to one lane…drivers were aggressive and did not want to give us the opportunity to merge. Vehicles passed us that had passengers who were literally hanging out of windows, yelling obscenities at us. We did not feel comfortable in that situation. The roads being diverted gave us concerns for our safety. Downtown did not provide a feeling of safety. Seeing the police presence amplified the feeling that we needed to reconsider where to host our holiday party.   

I hope this situation changes and we have the opportunity to dine at your restaurant again. I am sorry it didn’t work out. It would have been a great fit for what we wanted for our holiday party.” 

Lawless Behavior Allowed by Law Officers

There were 5 Shelby County Sheriffs standing on the NE corner of Main and Peabody. All standing next to their vehicles, parked on the sidewalk. Five cars – on the sidewalk. There was a line of vehicles cruising east on Peabody Place, coming off Main Street. Music was being played from many of these vehicles clearly above Noise Ordinance allowed levels. Obscenities were being shouted at passersby. Guns were being brandished by car passengers. Traffic lights were ignored. Intersections – both vehicular and pedestrian – were blocked by a continuous line of cars openly breaking these and any number of laws and ordinances. And not one officer of the law – not one of the five standing a mere 20 feet away – did anything. Not one directed traffic. Not one pulled anyone over. Not one did anything but stand there chatting. I know this, as I left the same parking garage about the same time.  

We lost a $5,000 party in the time it took a client to walk out our front door, get in their car and attempt to leave a two-block radius. That may not seem like a lot to you, but to us it is. Not only is that $5000 from a one-time party, but it compounds with the many times those guests will not return to dine with us and the immeasurable number of friends, family and colleagues with whom they will share their experience and who will also refuse to patronize downtown businesses, perhaps for years to come.

This is not normal city congestion. This is outright lawlessness. And it is being allowed to happen again and again. And it is costing us and our employees our livelihoods.  

One of our regulars and a longtime downtown resident and prominent business owner had his car, which was parked on Beale at Main, stolen while he enjoyed a late lunch with us this past Thursday. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. 

The National Civil Rights Museum had a spurt of vehicular break-ins in their parking lot during a donor event a couple of weekends ago. When they called MPD to assist in curtailing the gang of youths jumping on hoods, busting windows & breaking into cars, the museum’s head of operations was told they couldn’t send any officers since it wasn’t the employee’s particular car being broken into.  

The owner of another downtown restaurant shared with me a screenshot of a recent social media post to which one of their former regulars commented: “Wish I could come down there to enjoy a meal, but downtown is not safe!”    

MPD Lack of Planning Makes Downtown Look Like A Crime Scene

Our support of law enforcement is well documented and to be clear this is in no way an indictment of police officers themselves. Indeed, many officers have shared with us their frustration at the situation in which they find themselves.   

We know there are challenges facing MPD and other law enforcement agencies. Some of those challenges require long-term solutions and many, like our state’s irresponsible gun laws, are out of your hands. But as my previous email implored…creating crime deterrent strategies and empowering officers to implement those strategies is ABSOLUTELY in your hands.  

Deploying large numbers of officers to stand on corners with their car lights flashing does NOT create a sense of calm and security – it makes the entire area look like an active CRIME SCENE.  

Merely blocking off streets with no real traffic plan and no one directing traffic, is…I’ll say it again – NOT A PLAN.  It creates pinch points, creates confusion, and as our aforementioned guest described, it is scary. 

We need Active Policing. Not Passive Policing. Passive Policing is what we witnessed Saturday night – law officers turning a blind eye to multiple people violating multiple ordinances and laws over multiple hours…allowing the lawlessness to build to a crescendo where inevitably a violent crime takes place, and another person gets hurt or worse. Take care of the little things to avoid the tragic ones.  

Things MPD Should Do

Memphis is exceptional at many things. At the top of the list is Hospitality and Logistics. We need our law enforcement agencies to harness the expertise of our local leaders in these industries, many of whom are copied here. Work with our downtown hospitality, business and logistics experts to develop a cohesive safety and traffic plan that complements the unique characteristics of downtown and effectively stops crimes before they happen.  

  • Immediately develop and implement a series of what I like to call Active Deterrence Operations.  A series of concentrated, heightened police monitoring throughout Downtown scheduled for random, unannounced nights where officers are ensuring people are following existing ordinances and laws.

  • Do not just close off streets, instead train officers on how to direct traffic safely and efficiently and keep the flow of traffic going. 

  • Station trained officers at monitoring points and equip them with an action plan of looking for specific active violations of the laws and ordinances. Ensure every officer, whether MPD, Shelby County Sheriffs or State Troopers are well-versed in the ordinances and laws that are specific to Downtown. And not just the actual violations, but what actions officers can take when they witness or get a report of someone violating these. Make these the focus of the Active Deterrence Operations. 

  • Immediately ticket per the necessary violated ordinance, and arrest anyone found to have outstanding warrants, an illegal gun or drugs, and immediately impound their cars.

  • Have police vans at the ready to transport those arrested. 

  • Scan Drive Out Tags. There is a barcode on every state issued E-Z tag and we know people are driving slow enough through the core of Downtown. So scan them. Everyone is required by law to register their car. You can face felony charges for altering tags or titles. Scan them. Arrest the perpetrators. Impound their car. 

  • Pull over people for expired tags. I got pulled over on GE Patterson last summer ONE DAY after my tags expired – a result of the infamous backlog at the Clerk’s office. So this is something that is already practiced and can easily be done. Pull them over, run their licenses just like you did for me, give them a ticket for the expired tag, and arrest anyone with an outstanding warrant. 

  • Do these and other simple enforcements of the rules that already exist enough times and the word will spread that we do not and will not tolerate this lawlessness on our Downtown Streets. 

  • We must implement effective measures immediately or we will continue to see businesses close and residents leave, not just downtown but the city as a whole. 

We are all reeling from the events that occurred on Aug 20th. Obviously this kind of thing simply cannot be allowed to continue. We are grateful and heartened that, acknowledging the magnitude and the immediacy of the problem, the city, MPD, DMC and Shelby County Sheriff’s Department have so quickly gotten together with Beale St Merchants to begin to implement some solutions.

However, we need a more comprehensive plan that includes the needs of all stakeholders, residents and visitors throughout the entire Downtown district. 

The following is an email that was sent about two weeks earlier:


Downtown is a dynamic, event driven neighborhood that one day can be quiet and easy going, and the next, see the streets filled with thousands of folks. There cannot be only one traffic plan for Downtown. There cannot be only one traffic plan for every weekend Downtown. There needs to be a set of different traffic plans from which Downtown authorities can pull based on the specific circumstances of that day.  

Arbitrarily shutting down a bunch of Downtown streets with a weekly rotation of different officers who are not thoroughly trained in traffic control nor intimately familiar with the ebb and flow of Downtown is far from optimal. Safety does not just mean a heavily armed force or cars with lights blocking streets or barricades. It is also the feeling of welcome and security that the officers convey.

People that feel welcomed and confident in a police officer’s understanding of their surroundings, who meet an officer that is able to accurately give directions to a person’s hotel or recommend a restaurant or let them know what time the game lets out or steer them away from a congested area, are people that will feel safe, will enjoy their experience and return to patronize Downtown again and again. This confident understanding of the officer’s surroundings will also go a long way in deterring bad behavior. If people with bad intentions understand the Downtown officers know what is happening on every street at any given moment, they are less likely to cause trouble.  

Care must also be taken to ensure large scale events, races and festivals are managed holistically and not in a vacuum. Instead of multiple street closure permits being issued to different applicants without regard to each other, MPD departments of traffic & special events and all downtown precincts should work in concert with DMC, businesses and the City Permits office to ensure a deliberate and coherent street closure plan that allows for a free flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, while also keeping event participants safe.  


Officers should be provided with detailed plans, either digitally or printed, of traffic plans and street closures. Not just for their post but the entirety of Downtown. These plans can be used as a helpful tool to direct visitors to Downtown though the maze of closed streets.

We can’t let what we witnessed the first weekend of the new traffic plan – officers giving a family trying to reach their hotel directions, directions that would only lead them to another closed street. This family was trying to check into the Hampton Inn. The Hampton Inn and its parking garage were completely blocked off from vehicular traffic. This family had been driving around in circles for quite some time and were naturally frustrated and will probably never come back to Memphis.

We witnessed another frustrating scene where a woman, already checked in at the Hampton Inn and trying to return to her hotel with medicine for her 80 year old mother, was repeatedly misdirected by officers. She was finally let through, but only after she completely panicked about not reaching her sick mother in time and drove her car through the barrier at BB King and Peabody Place and tearfully had to plead her case to the officer that chased her down in his car. This woman and her mother won’t likely return to Memphis either.  


Blocking the flow of normal pedestrian traffic is dangerous, and unnecessarily unwelcoming and inconvenient.  


The city wisely worked with the scooter companies to establish a curfew to ensure these flexible modes of transportation are being used as just that and not avenues for late night mischief. As recently as this past weekend, folks on scooters have been seen and heard gathering in Downtown parking lots and on streets as late as 2:30am. All Scooter companies should be required to disable their scooters at the agreed to curfew time each night.  


This should be straightforward low hanging fruit to focus on that would have an immediate impact on curbing the “getting away with anything and everything” feeling perpetrated by the current lax enforcement of rules already on the books for the carriages and pedal pubs. In addition, working to pass the Transportainment Ordinance currently before City Council will give the Transportation Commission the authority they need to oversee the licensing of this relatively new breed of vehicle and help keep our Downtown roads and sidewalks safe. MPD needs to be given authority and offers need to be trained to enforce these. 


We love our officers. We often drop off dinners at the precincts. We provide discounts for our officers. We have over the years gotten to know our downtown police leadership but lately it has been such a fast revolving door, that it seems like there are new faces every time we stop in to say hi. Not only does this make it hard for the officers to establish relationships with those they’re entrusted to protect, it is almost impossible for them to have the time it takes to understand Downtown and how it works. Adding outside reinforcements during busy times is obviously necessary, but we need to have a core of officers and leadership Downtown that are intimately familiar with Downtown businesses, traffic flow and unique situations.  


Our support for food trucks and street vendors is well documented. Indeed we worked with then Councilman Strickland to help draft the current ordinance. However, post COVID, the proliferation of unlicensed and unregulated food trucks and street vendors selling all manner of sometimes, we assume, illegal goods are creating security hot spots. The huge gathering and subsequent mass shooting the weekend of the 20th, occurred at an intersection where these food trucks and vendors, along with a total mishmash of random vehicles are known to park illegally, gather large crowds, and are basically hosting unauthorized nightly street parties.  

We have seen a food truck along with a food trailer hitched to a pick-up with two residential smokers in its bed, set up shop in the no parking emergency lane on Main Street opposite the Orpheum for multiple weekends. They even set up tables, chairs & coolers on the sidewalk. Where they were parked is clearly sign-posted and striped ‘No Parking.’ Not only were they allowed to openly sell their products all evening with multiple officers posted a mere 20 feet away, but they left their vehicles overnight so they could resume their illegal sales the next day. If any of us had parked our cars in that area, they would’ve been towed to the impound lot that night. 

All of this lawlessness with impunity shouts “Anybody can get away with anything down here!”  And they do. And violence like we saw the other night inevitably follows. 

We support the idea that’s been floated of an Emergency Order to temporarily cease or severely curtail food truck operations in Downtown while the ordinances are reviewed to better reflect the post pandemic landscape. This would immediately eliminate the security hot spots and give the city time to re-evaluate the current ordinance and make any necessary changes, work with the Shelby County Health Department to make sure they are on board with those changes and allow MPD and SCSD to be granted authority and given the training to help SCHD to enforce these ordinances on a regular basis.  

We have all worked so hard to cultivate a Downtown that is family friendly, showcases our cultural excellence, and provides both Memphians and Tourists a memorable experience of authentic Memphis hospitality. Musician Rodd Bland’s heartbreaking plea for people to stop the crime and violence so that his father’s and godfather’s legacies can continue to shine a bright light on Memphis reflects our sentiments. To paraphrase: if this violent behavior continues, the street that was so important and iconic in launching so many careers in music and entertainment will be a faded memory.  

The same can be said for all of Downtown. If we allow this to continue, our only legacy will be that of crime and empty storefronts.  

We’ve all worked too hard for that to be allowed to happen. Many of us cannot hold out much longer. We hope you will take our suggestions to heart and work towards an immediate, comprehensive action plan to return Downtown to the safe neighborhood and place of pride we know it can be.  

In partnership for a vibrant, safe Downtown & City of Memphis,


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