Some of the five former Memphis police officers accused in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols were members of a recently created unit that was tasked with tackling rising crime in the city.
When it was launched in 2021, the SCORPION unit – which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods – was heralded as a direct response to some of the city’s worst crime. Mayor Jim Strickland championed the unit, mentioning it during an address to the city in January 2022 and proudly pointing to 566 arrests – 390 of which were for felonies – and more than $103,000 in cash seized.
“Statistically, crime was off the hook. Tactically, it was the logical move for a police department to create SCORPION,” according to CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller. “These units are sent to areas where the police are tracking upticks in violent crime.”
Miller said “targeted deployments can have a good impact” but noted there could be issues:
“The problems may lie in three key places: Did they receive specific, tailored training in de-escalation and how to manage events from spinning up too fast? In the selection process, beyond choosing officers who had records of making gun arrests, did they look at their civilian complaint history, use of force histories, and talk with their former supervisors about their fit for this kind of work? Finally, supervision.”
Unit inactivated in wake of Nichols’ death: At least two of the officers charged in Nichols’ death were members of SCORPION, and CNN reported Friday that the unit has been inactivated during a review process by the Memphis Police Department.
Police Major Karen Rudolph told CNN that the unit “has not been disbanded” and that the review encompasses 10 such specialized units “that work similar” to SCORPION.
In a weekly letter to the Memphis community, Strickland also commented on the review.
“It is clear that these officers violated the department’s policies and training. I want to assure you we are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again. We are initiating an outside, independent review of the training, policies, and operations of our specialized units. Since this event happened, the SCORPION Unit has been and remains inactive,” the mayor wrote.
Nichols’ family attorney Antonio Romanucci has called on Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis to disband the unit immediately.
You can read more about the Memphis SCORPION unit here.
CNN’s Don Lemon and Jamiel Lynch contributed reporting to this post.