By Malorie Paine
MEMPHIS, TN — An alarming number of interstate shootings have taken place in Memphis and Shelby County since Jan. 1.
According to Memphis Police Department, 32 interstate shootings had occurred around Memphis as of July 17. MPD Public Information Officer Lieutenant Karen Rudolph said the shootings have been attributed to road rage as well as reactionary behavior to conflict that had taken place at other locations.
To protect themselves, drivers should be courteous when on the roadways by using their blinkers, being patient, watching their speed limit and distances between their vehicle and others, Rudolph said. MPD and Shelby County Sheriff’s Office have increased the number of units on the Memphis interstates in an effort to deter crimes, however the number of shootings has been cause for concern for residents and city officials alike.
To assist MPD and SCSO efforts, Tennessee Highway Patrol is allocating 32 troopers from across the state to Memphis in hopes of eliminating these acts of road rage, THP Captain Jimmy Johnson said.
Operation Grizzly Bear, which began in 2016, is a collaborative effort to reduce highway crimes in and around Memphis. Previously, the program has been utilized to combat unrestrained driving, alcohol impaired driving and otherwise unsafe behavior within Memphis’ interstate system, Johnson said.
Operation Grizzly Bear will take place over six weeks, and then the program will be evaluated for effectiveness and possible continuation, he said.
“This year, we’re focused on providing extra resources from across the state to supplement what Memphis PD has been doing the last month or so,” Johnson said. “We’re hoping to curve road rage that’s been on the interstates and has been leading to the shootings. It is unacceptable to our department.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said he has been angered recently because of the violent acts taking place on Memphis’ interstates.
“I am absolutely fed up with our citizens not feeling safe,” Strickland said. “This is an all hands on deck operation, and we are working together to solve this issue.”
Representatives from Memphis have worked to lobby Tennessee legislatures to increase penalties for road rage shootings, but Strickland said those efforts will continue into next year as well.
“We still have much work to do, but we are committed to fixing this,” Strickland said.
MPD is also looking to add more officers to the department. Currently, there are more than 2,000 officers employed, and the city hopes to reach a goal of 2,300 officers employed by the end of 2020. The department is always actively recruiting officer candidates.
Memphis residents who witness aggressive driving or shootings should report those incidents to the police department by calling 901-545-COPS or 911 and providing the details to dispatch, Rudolph said.