Bonner speaks to Frayser Exchange Club about juvenile justice
Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell
“When you see these young people around in your community, talk to these young people about the importance of doing the right thing. …We’ve got to reach out to them, not just to our own children. They have had no guidance, no one to really train them. There was no one teaching them at home.”
Pen the title Shelby County Sheriff to that reflection and add the name Floyd Bonner Jr. and you have a point of reference for what happened at the Frayser Exchange Club meeting last week.
With a standing-room-only crowd, including some uniformed deputies, Bonner, the first African-American elected to serve as sheriff, encouraged more involvement in the lives of children who are heading down the wrong path.
He cited numbers that many would find stunning.
“There are 41 juveniles being held out at Jail East. Jail East is where we house the women inmates. But those 41 juveniles out at Jail East are being charged as adults. We’ve got to do more to save our children. We as a community are failing them.”
An additional 85 juveniles are being held at the Juvenile Court facility, Bonner said.
Congress, said Bonner, has mandated that juveniles cannot be housed in adult facilities. He firmly supports constructing a new juvenile facility in Shelby County to address the need.
“County juveniles are housed in a building that is 60 or 70 years old,” he said. When they go outside, they go on concrete. They never see a blade of grass. The law was passed in December of 2018, which means we have until December 2021. We don’t want to ship our kids out of the county or the state. That would put another hardship on parents if we sent our kids away. We want to lead the way in juvenile reform and justice.”
Establishing that the law enforcement division is accredited by the National Sheriffs Association, Bonner told the audience at Impact Church that “our jails and our jail medical” also are accredited, adding, “That’s something that you all should be very proud of.”
Delving into crime statistics, Bonner touted an 8.4 percent drop in crime for unincorporated Shelby County.
“Simple assaults are driving the numbers now, and thefts from motor vehicles,” he said, pointing out violent crime is actually down.
Like Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings, who spoke at the Frayser Exchange Club the previous week, Bonner is increasing recruitment efforts to fill a shortage of officers.
“I just spoke with Director Rallings yesterday. We share our woes regarding recruitment challenges. It is our hope that the residency requirement (for officers) is relaxed, even if it’s just for a little while. Director Rallings needs about 500 officers. I am short 59 deputies. But with the residency requirement, the pond is shrinking.”
To date, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office commands 791 corrections officers and 639 deputies.
Potential applicants, he said, should visit the department’s website and make use of the “user-friendly application online,” if they want to apply.
“Anyone who might be interested in employment should be at least 21. Their background must be clean, so they have to be able to pass a background check. We will accept high school graduates, although we do encourage them to go back to school.
“And they must be in some kind of shape. But don’t look at me. Look at some of these young deputies,” Bonner joked. “I’m not the example. Look at some of my young deputies with the flat stomachs.”
Bonner extended an open invitation to anyone wanting to sign up for the Citizen’s Academy. Registration is ongoing in the month of October, and the interactive course lasts for several weeks.
This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender