The nation shouldn’t reduce the heinous killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis at the hands of police officers to broad brush explanations and simple solutions. 

The video of Nichols being beaten to death by five officers is evidence of a crime. It should be treated as such. It also should be a reason for Memphis police to examine department training, ethics and internal policies. The chief has already disbanded the anti-crime task force, named “Scorpion,” to which the officers were assigned.

The victim and many police officers involved were Black. And while studies show systemic racism may indeed be a problem associated with policing in America, it’s too simplistic to blame racial prejudice as the sole cause of this crime.

Likewise, the mantra, “defund the police,” which grew out of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, would be a simplistic and wrong approach. Crime, especially murder, spiked in many large cities in 2021, which some have blamed on that movement. Police recruiting also took a hit, leading to staffing shortages in many departments. 

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Threats to defund police departments did nothing to elevate the important career of law enforcement in the eyes of young people. 

Meanwhile, the homicide and reckless-driving problem that led to the creation of Scorpion in Memphis is real, and it is still plaguing the city. Surely, an answer must be found that fights crime while protecting the public from police abuses.

Perhaps the only appropriate response to the death of Nichols may be the one veteran police officer and police advocate Ian Adams gave us earlier this week. “I find myself at a loss for words,” he said. 

Adams, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina who researches policing and violence, said the incident “raises a lot of questions for me about the supervision, the training and the culture within the police department.”

The officers were wearing body cameras and were surrounded by cameras on poles in the area where the beating occurred. “They didn’t appear to have any fear at all of getting caught in what was obviously criminal behavior. Their actions didn’t reflect use-of-force techniques. They didn’t reflect arrest control or emotional control,” he said.

It’s hard to draw lessons from actions that seem so illogical.

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Video of the crime is so brutal and senseless, it’s hard to watch. It can make the viewer feel a sense of hopelessness, especially viewed against the backdrop of nationwide protests and riots two years ago. But the nation can’t give in to hopelessness. It has to believe there are real answers and solutions.

About 18,000 separate state, local and federal policing agencies operate in the United States. The problems in Memphis aren’t necessarily the same as those in other departments, and yet all departments are in need of the highest quality of officers who understand the sacred trust that comes with the power to use deadly force while protecting the public. 

The United States needs more, not fewer, police officers, and it needs good ones. The way to do that is to elevate the profession of policing in the eyes of the public, especially among young people making career choices. That requires more money, not less.

Salt Lake Mayor Erin Mendenhall understood this when she agreed in 2021 to support a nearly 30% pay increase for new recruits and a 12% raise for veteran officers. “Decreasing the funding for a department who is already struggling to retain and recruit officers ... is an illogical and backwards step,” Mendenhall said at the time.

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Indeed, it would be.

In addition to more funding, departments need to thoroughly review their policies and the culture that is, perhaps unintentionally, being fostered. Policing can give an officer, faced with the constant need for alertness and daily contact with the public, a jaded view of the world. Departments need strategies to counter this, while fostering atmospheres in which officers look forward to work each day. 

No simple solution will accomplish this. Policing is hard, but it is necessary for a society to function and prosper. 

We mourn for Nichols and for his family and friends. We mourn for the problems of Memphis. But we have faith that the nation’s policing problems are solvable through dedicated, hard work.