Memphis leaders must work together to address the spike in violent crime | Opinion

The nation’s eyes have been on Memphis in recent weeks. Sadly, the attention our city of good abode is receiving is not for its many excellent attributes or the many fine citizens who love this city as I do.  The high profile kidnapping and murder of teacher Eliza Fletcher and, shortly thereafter, a murderous rampage shared on Facebook Live, have shown a side of Memphis that have many wondering “what is going on there?”

Throughout my career, it has been a top priority to keep our city safe and provide crime victims with the justice they deserve. Early in my career, I was the Memphis Police Department’s legal advisor. I share my constituents’ concern about crime in Memphis and join my constituents in extreme concern about how sexual assault cases are handled.

Immediately after Eliza Fletcher’s abduction and the unrelated murderous rampage days later that killed three victims and wounded three others, I wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland to ask for the U.S. Department of Justice to use all resources available to assist local law enforcement.  I followed up with the White House to reiterate my request.  Recently, I met with the leaders of the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services and Justice Programs to seek assistance, and they pledged their support.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis speaks on Eliza Fletcher's abduction during a press conference Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, outside the Donnelley J. Hill Public Safety Building in Memphis. Fletcher, a 34-year-old Memphis teacher, was reportedly abducted Friday on the University of Memphis campus. Her body was found by law enforcement Monday afternoon in the 1600 block of Victor Street. Cleotha Abston, 38, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of a kidnapping. He made his first court appearance Tuesday morning.
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis speaks on Eliza Fletcher's abduction during a press conference Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, outside the Donnelley J. Hill Public Safety Building in Memphis. Fletcher, a 34-year-old Memphis teacher, was reportedly abducted Friday on the University of Memphis campus. Her body was found by law enforcement Monday afternoon in the 1600 block of Victor Street. Cleotha Abston, 38, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of a kidnapping. He made his first court appearance Tuesday morning.

I have also met with the Mayor’s office and the Memphis Police Department to express my concerns and those of Memphians who have reached out to me.

Delay in testing rape kits is unacceptable

That a rape kit sitting untested in a Tennessee of Bureau lab in Jackson, Tennessee -- had it been processed in a timely manner -- could have prevented the death of Eliza Fletcher is particularly troubling to me.  For years, I have worked to provide additional funding to reduce the rape kit backlog, including offering and passing several amendments to increase funding for Department of Justice agencies.

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In 2015, Memphis received nearly $2 million and, in 2017, it received just over $1 million from this program to reduce its rape kit backlog. In 2020, I announced a Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant of $2 million to the City of Memphis.  To date, the city has received more than $9.7 million in federal funding.

It is absolutely unacceptable that there was an 11-month delay in testing the kit associated with the assault on Alicia Franklin and that, despite the federal funding, rape kits from Memphis still take 33 to 49 weeks to process, unless specifically expedited by law enforcement.  If Franklin’s attacker had been put behind bars, Eliza Fletcher’s abduction and murder would have been prevented..

With a new District Attorney General, new U.S. Attorney, and new Juvenile Court judge in Memphis, it is my hope that, working together, we can address the spike in violent crime.

I have called for a summit of all the interested parties, including Memphis-Shelby County Schools leaders, to meet and discuss possible solutions. In Washington, I will do all I can as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee to see that Memphis and Shelby County receive the resources and support they deserve.

Congressman Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, represents Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis leaders must work together to address spike in violent crime