Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

Rampant crime creating a big problem for small businesses and the Memphis economy

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MEMPHIS, Tenn — Telisa Franklin said she chose to open her business Flowers & More on Summer Avenue near Baltic because so many young girls and boys in the area never dreamed of walking into a flower shop.

“I thought I was going to fix some of the problems by being a beacon of light,” she said. “That’s why when I bought this building, it was an old dingy grey color. I was like, no baby, we got to put bright white on it.”

It worked. Her flower shop flourished. But last year, she was forced to shut her doors after thieves broke in dozens of times.

She’s one of many Memphis entrepreneurs who say crime is making it hard to do business.

“April 29 is when they stole the cameras and lighting off the building,” Franklin said.

She says the thieves came back after that at least 20 times, swiping the ceiling fans, computers, flowers, boxes of t-shirts for a Juneteenth festival, a printing press, shears and the premium ribbons, right before Mother’s Day.

“At that point there was nothing more to do, because to correct it, I couldn’t correct it. It was too hard to correct it,” she said.

Too many claims meant insurance dropped her. She said she closed her doors and started moving out around the same time the owner of a pool hall a few miles down the road got a letter in the mail.

Tracy Whitney found out the man who broke into his pool hall, High Pockets, would finally have his day in court.

“Christmas Eve of 2022. My building was vandalized and burglarized,” he said.

Security camera captured break-in in Dec. 2022

His security cameras captured it. A bold thief busted a window and stole the quarter machine

“I was watching News Channel 3. I saw a story on another business owner who had been broken into the same time I had,” he said.

The guy in their security footage looked like the man in his. He told police.

“I just assumed they captured him. They knew who he was,” Whitney said. “Fast forward six to eight months later, again, I get a text that my business has been burglarized form my alarm company. I rush down here.”

High Pockets on Old Summer Road

Whitney said the same guy was captured on his cameras again, this time causing thousands of dollars in damage. He told police what he knew. It helped them make a quick arrest.

Since then, he upgraded his security system.

“It affects my business. It costs me more money with security guards, things like that,” he said. “It’s a lot of stress. A lot of business owners can’t handle that.”

Stories like these have WREG Investigators digging deeper into the rampant crime happening in our city and looking at possible solutions.

In the past year, crime has plagued the business community. Memphis police report more than 2,200 business burglaries.

Restaurants blamed crime for their sudden closures. Mobile phone, gaming, jewelry and beauty shops have been hit again and again.

City Gear stores reported 60 break-ins. It forced them to add more cameras and even canines.

Delivery trucks were targeted, too. Some reportedly were ransacked when stuck on the road by ice in a recent snowstorm. Security guards are now tagging along.

Gas stations remain vigilant after dozens of people ransacked two on Airways and Third Street in November. The group aimed a gun at the clerk and stole $15,000 worth of merchandise.

“This is a big issue. This is a big problem,” Memphis economist John Gnuschke said.

He said crime is eroding the economic and social fabric of the community. He believes it’s destroying neighborhoods, and the people who can least afford it suffer the most.

“Everyone pays the bill. We pay for it in terms of police expenditures and insurance. We pay it in terms of out of pocket losses,” he said.

Gnuschke said we have to look at the root causes like poverty, more funding for education, better policing and more economic opportunities. He said we can’t just keep repeating the same plans and ideas.

“We have to get serious about this problem before the city goes too far and when people start to flee the city, because they can’t go to a restaurant at night or go out and be safe in their car or driveway at night. We have problems that are close to being insurmountable,” he said.

Greater Memphis Chamber President Ted Townsend says crime has become the center of conversation among their members.

“I kept asking myself over and over, what is the role of the Chamber,” Townsend said. “What I came to was, we have the mechanism of convening and carrying these business voices and concerns forward.”

He said they formed the Public Safety Accountability Committee. It’s a team that has been meeting with city and county leaders like the district attorney, police chief and judges, asking them what their short-term and long-term strategies are and how the Chamber can help.

One way is by helping the Memphis Police Department write a memorandum of understanding to make it easier for more businesses to sign up for their camera program.

Townsend said he also hand-delivered a letter to the governor and leadership at the start of the legislative session. It was drafted and signed by 85 executives from the city’s largest businesses. It listed demands like a $50 million grant for crime reduction strategies, more money to tackle a backlog of court cases and a new law making possession of a stolen firearm a felony.

Townsend said it’s a clear message they aren’t giving up on Memphis.

“If we can advance legislation or the marshalling of more resources that we have known other cities have done in other states, then that is what the role of the Chamber is about,” he said.

Townsend said they are monitoring what happens. They hope it can help the chamber’s efforts to land some of the 40 companies eyeing Memphis that represent 20,000 new jobs. He said if they can land some of them, that will also help combat crime.

“We think economic development is prescriptive to the solutions for the precursors of crime. Poverty, the lack of education and skills attainment,” he said.

Telisa Franklin

Franklin agrees. The city has to address the root causes, but until that happens she said the city cannot win.

“We put a Band-aid on it and just create another program. No, no, no. Let’s get to the root of it, because we cannot continue to do nothing,” she said. “There’s no way you can win. No way.”

The pool hall owner down the street feels that way, too. Whitney thought he had finally won until another letter came in the mail.

“I open it up. It has all [defendant’s] information, and they arrested him,” he said. “He pleaded guilty to burglarizing my business and for doing over $2,500 in vandalism. They gave him time served, one day.”

second letter Tracy Whitney received in the mail

One day. Even though the man was facing other burglary charges and had a long rap sheet that included more burglaries, forgery, and theft charges. We asked the DA’s office about the sentence, but have not heard back.

Whitney believes he’ll do it again.

“I’m sure he will. I’m sure he will. It’s not even a question,” he said.

Want to get involved?

On February 15, Memphis police are hosting a forum for businesses at New Directions Church at 6 p.m. to answer questions and discuss safety information regarding burglary, shoplifting, robbery and more.

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