The Memphis Police Department has 35 specialized units. Here's what they do.

·4 min read

In the days that followed the beating and death of Tyre Nichols in early January, and the later revelation that the officers directly involved were part of one of the Memphis Police Department's specialized units, activists began calling for those specialized units to be shut down.

The SCORPION unit, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, was disbanded during peaceful protests, sparking celebration among activists. But calls for further shutdowns continued, even as MPD and the City of Memphis invited the Department of Justice to investigate how its specialized units function.

On March 8, the DOJ announced its intent to conduct that investigation, which is a step below a full-fledged pattern or practice investigation, and create a best practices guide for specialized units for departments across the country.

More:DOJ to create 'guide' on best practices for specialized units in wake of Tyre Nichols' death

But what exactly fell under the umbrella of "specialized units" was not completely clear until Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "C.J." Davis and Deputy Chiefs Don Crowe, Stephen Chandler and Paul Wright presented a breakdown of the department's specialized units to the Memphis City Council's Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

Signs in support of Tyre Nichols are seen in front of Memphis City Hall while Tyre Nichols’ family reviews footage inside of the traffic stop that resulted in Nichols being taken to the hospital in critical condition in Memphis, Tenn., on Monday, January 23, 2023. Nichols was a skater and members of the Memphis skateboarding community came out to support his family.
Signs in support of Tyre Nichols are seen in front of Memphis City Hall while Tyre Nichols’ family reviews footage inside of the traffic stop that resulted in Nichols being taken to the hospital in critical condition in Memphis, Tenn., on Monday, January 23, 2023. Nichols was a skater and members of the Memphis skateboarding community came out to support his family.

More than 30 units are considered 'specialized units'

  • Harbor patrol unit: Enforces marine laws along the Mississippi River.

  • Air support unit (ASU): Utilized by MPD units and outside agencies in operations such as lost or missing children and arresting people.

  • Mounted patrol: Assists in traffic control and "positive community relations," according to the presentation.

  • Canine unit (K-9): Unit that uses dogs and their handlers for building and person searches, as well as detecting drugs and explosives.

  • Tactical apprehensive and containment team (TACT): Unit that responds to "various emergency situations," such as barricade situations, hostage rescues, and "high risk felony apprehensions."

  • Bomb unit: Responds to scenes that involve, or involved, explosive devices.

  • DUI: Responds to calls involving alcohol or drug incidents. This unit is also specifically trained to test drivers believed to be intoxicated.

  • Motorcycle unit: Traffic officers that ride motorcycles and used for events.

  • Special traffic investigation squad (STIS): Investigates crashes involving deaths or critical injuries, along with any crashes for people over 85 years old.

  • Special traffic enforcement unit (STEU): Enforces traffic laws, directs traffic, investigates crashes.

  • Organized crime unit (OCU): Works with multi-jurisdictional task forces with a focus on illegal drug operations and vice operations.

  • DEA task force: MPD officers who work under the Drug Enforcement Administration.

  • Multi-agency gang unit (MGU): Focuses on long-term investigations into gangs, with a focus on dismantling organized crime "through disruption of illegal activities."

  • Gun crimes unit (GCU): Works with the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to investigate aggravated assaults that involve firearms.

  • Auto theft task force (ATTF): Focused on curbing car thefts, along with growing public awareness.

  • Project safe neighborhoods (PSN): Identifies the most violent neighborhoods to find those who drive violent crime.

  • Drug abuse resistance education/gang resistance education and training (DARE/GREAT): DARE offers classroom education to prevent and reduce drug use. GREAT has the goal of preventing children from falling into the gang lifestyle.

  • Fugitive unit: Focuses on finding wanted people who are accused of committing violent felonies.

  • West Tennessee drug task force: Works to prevent the transport of drugs under the direction of the Shelby County District Attorney's Office.

  • Child exploitation task force: Works with the FBI to root out crimes against children.

  • Safe streets task force: Works with the FBI to target "criminal enterprise groups" that traffic drugs, launder money and commit violent crimes.

  • Memphis auto cargo task force: Works with the FBI to targets theft of interstate shipments.

  • United States Marshal's Mid South fugitive task force: Works under the U.S. Marshal's Service to arrest people who have active state or federal warrants.

  • United States Secret Service economic task force: Works under the U.S. Secret Service to investigate counterfeiting.

  • Precinct task force (TF): Works under the precinct commander to address crime in each precinct.

  • Chaplaincy unit: Works to grow partnerships with the faith community.

  • Community impact officers: Includes retired officers who try to connect with a respective precinct's community members and organizations.

  • Community engagement unit (COPS): Works to strengthen and create partnerships with community members by "utilizing innovative crime prevention techniques and educational programs."

Lucas Finton is a news reporter with The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis police has 35 specialized units. Here's what they do.