by: Jessica Gertler
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A woman almost robbed at gunpoint. Another woman’s car almost stolen. A deadly crash involving a fire truck. All three stories have one thing in common:
They waited on police to arrive for quite some time.
“I lifted the nozzle from the tank and turned around, and there was something grey in my car,” Latanya Woods said.
She remembers that traumatic evening in April well. She was at a gas station on North Germantown Parkway when a man in a grey hoodie tried stealing her car.
She followed her instinct.
“I don’t know what instinct. I just put the gas nozzle to his head and pulled the trigger on it,” she said. “Didn’t have much gas, because I hadn’t pushed the button yet. Gas trickled down his head, and I said get the f**k out my car.”
He listened. He grabbed her phone and keys off her seat as he exited the vehicle and took off. Folks nearby dialed 911.
“I wanted police there, because in the time of crisis, you expect serve and protect to come and serve and protect,” Woods said. “I called my daughter, and they were able to come to me and bring more of my children. My husband came, and they surrounded my car to wait for police to come, but they never showed,” Woods said.
She waited three hours at the gas station before giving up and going home. The next morning, she went to a precinct to fill out a report.
She said police told her they had an “overwhelming response of calls coming in that were more urgent than mine. Mine was considered an attempted crime.”
We submitted an open records request in April, asking how many 911 calls came in that night. MPD told us they need more time to gather that data.
According to the city’s crime tracker, that night between 5 and 10, there were 59 reported incidents, including five aggravated assaults, a business robbery and five domestic violence reports.
“It’s just a sad situation,” Woods said.
Another woman faced a situation in December when she says she was in a friend’s car downtown when a strange vehicle pulled up.
“At that point, three masked individuals emerged from the car armed and started approaching our car to attempt to rob us,” the woman said.
They escaped and frantically called 911. She said it took officers over an hour to get there.
Between midnight and 4 a.m. that Sunday, the city’s crime tracker shows 80 reported crimes, including 10 aggravated assaults, a carjacking, a homicide and two robberies.
“For them, it’s not just a statistic. It is an important traumatic moment in their life, and you want to get there,” said John Covington with the Memphis Police Association.
Covington believes this is a consequence of high crime and not enough officers.
The city’s website says it is 350 officers short of its goal of 2,300 officers.
“If there’s a shooting happening, all of the resources are going to the shooting or critical event happening,” he said.
He said calls are prioritized, and critical events can tie up officers for hours.
“Officers need to get there and make sure the scene is safe and start to investigate and tape things off and block traffic and keep people from the scene. It’s very labor intensive,” he said.
On December 17, the city’s crime tracker shows 96 incidents overnight, including an officer involved shooting, a double homicide and two aggravated assaults.
There was also a crash on the interstate that Memphis firefighters responded to at 11:20 p.m.
They waited four hours for officers to get there to investigate.
“It was in the middle of the night. The traffic was light on the interstate, and the unexpected happened,” Memphis Firefighter Association President Thomas Malone said.
He said a car ran into the fire truck. The driver in the car died and three firefighters were also injured.
Police showed up after that.
“It wasn’t always like this, and until they get numbers up and are able to hire, it’s going to continue,” he said.
MPD didn’t respond to our interview request, but have told us they handle calls “based on priority.”
We asked Covington if there’s anything they can change until they get numbers up.
“There is. You try to target. We use statistics to target high crime areas and where things are going to happen, and you move your resources around,” he said.
However, Covington added it’s hard to know where and when they’re needed.
“Something definitely needs to be addressed,” Woods said.
Whether that’s recruiting more qualified officers, reassigning roles to other entities like social workers or increasing juvenile supports, Woods just knows she’s fed up.
“We just really need a lot of police reform. They need help. They need help. The people need help. There’s something going on with children that’s just outlandish,” Woods said.
She remembers that evening too well and is thankful it wasn’t worse.