Crime is down. Who knew?

September 29th, 2011

“So many people have been and continue to be involved in implementing the 15 distinct strategies of Operation: Safe Community, that no one can even figure out how to take credit for its success. That’s unheard of around here. It’s an election year, and candidates aren’t tagging this as their baby? Please.”

True, but that's not the point. Point is, I wrote those words in July of 2010. The good news is that we’re still standing up to crime in Memphis and Shelby County and, although it’s a long fight, we’ve won every round since 2006. The bad news is that most people still don’t know there’s any good news.

You see, good news won’t scare the crap out of you to start the evening broadcast.

As published in The Daily News, September 30, 2011, and in The Memphis News, October 1-7.



Tonight, within the first 30 seconds after going on the air, someone wearing an expression of deep concern – and plenty of hair product and makeup – is going to stare into the camera and dramatically read the following shocking revelation off the teleprompter.

Today, crimes were committed in Memphis.

Tomorrow night, that same person, and his or her similarly coiffed colleagues on every local news set, will do it again. As sure as you’ll be made aware of the number of watts in their weather radar, as sure as you’ll be teased with whatever will tune you up to stay tuned through the commercial break, the lead will include something that bleeds.

With their news budgets slashed, their value a product of tooth whitener times ratings, local TV news operations here and everywhere have been reduced to listening to police scanners, mining the Internet, waiting for calls from somebody reamed by a bogus plumber, and hoping for a major thunderstorm warning.

You see, criminals, conmen and thunderstorms are frightening, and if you’re frightened, you’ll stay tuned. While there truly is crime, victimization and bad weather in every city, sensationalizing them with half-truths is a half-ass way to inform the public.

Whatever it is we’re getting from local broadcast news, and network news for that matter, to feed the voracious appetite of a 24/7 news cycle and the increasing demand that it be covered in sensational gravy – whatever it is we’re being fed – it isn’t the complete truth.

And it isn’t journalism.

I wrote this more than a year ago:

“Operation: Safe Community is arguably the most all-inclusive, ambitious and successful initiative undertaken by this city in decades, but, to paraphrase a popular cynical description of what makes news … it’s stopping the bleeding, so it isn’t leading.”

I could have written it this week. Right after I saw another Operation: Safe Community update showing yet another substantial decline in crime in Memphis and Shelby County. Right after I saw in that same update that the U.S. Justice Department just came to town to look at our Memphis Youth Violence Prevention Plan, and that we’re one of six cities collaborating on the national plan as part of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention. Right after I saw that we’ve been doing something right for five straight years.

I’ll bet my Vizio you didn’t see much of that on yours. So, this just in, major violent crime is down 26.9% in the city compared to when the initiative started in 2006, and down 26.8% in the county. Major property crime is down by 32.4% in both city and county, and the highlights include a 53.8% decline in motor vehicle theft throughout the county.

If you want to see the story, the whole story – including the cast of characters, past episodes and exciting previews – catch it all at www.memphiscrime.org, a real reality show, and, sadly, news to just about everybody.

I’m a Memphian, and, truth is, crime in my city is down.


Marty Aussenberg: BRILLIANT! Of course it is, since I've been saying pretty much the same thing(s) for years. Great minds think alike. The local broadcast media insist they only pay homage to the principle of "if it bleeds it leads" because that, they say, is what the public demands. I say, BS. They get no praise when they bombard us with fear-inducing news, but whenever they do a REAL good news piece, the accolades are endless. It's no accident that one of the authorities on health, Dr. Andrew Weil, says that an important component of being/staying healthy is avoiding reading the newspaper or watching the local news. Keep up the good work.

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