The killing of Tyre Nichols by the Scorpion unit of the Memphis police force has brought scrutiny and federal investigations to the city. The Scorpion unit was disbanded after Nichols was killed, but by then the damage was done, contends mayoral candidate Van Turner, former president of the Memphis NAACP. He says it exacerbated mistrust in the police force, NPR reports. "It was this incident that allowed us as Memphians to draw a distinction," Turner says. "Yes, we want safe communities. We want a return back to community policing. But we don't want innocent people hurt, maimed and killed in the name of effective policing." The case has brought new scrutiny to a police force that had been under court orders in the past to address unconstitutional abuses of power. Now there are civil lawsuits and new federal investigations. Activists say a reckoning with an out-of-control police culture is long overdue.
The U.S. Justice Department initially opened a criminal civil rights investigation, and later announced a second civil probe — what is known as a pattern or practice investigation that will focus on several areas — the Memphis Police Department's use of force; its stops, searches and arrests; and whether officers engage in discriminatory policing and dangerously aggressive traffic enforcement. City councilman JB Smiley welcomes the investigation. He says lawmakers have not got the answers they're seeking from police leadership. "Not much transparency, not much candor as relates to the inner workings of our police department," Smiley says. "And that's problematic and troubling. Hopefully the Justice Department is able to get more information than we can." The council has passed ordinances designed to prevent officers from making petty traffic stops, and to create an online portal that gives the public access to records of police misconduct. It also approved a pay raise in an effort to address a struggle to recruit and retain officers. The effect of those changes has yet to be seen.