What is Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION unit?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The five officers who have been arrested and charged with the killing of Tyre Nichols were part of a specialized unit in the Memphis Police Department called the SCORPION unit.

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SCORPION stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, according to The New York Times. The unit was established in the fall of 2021 to deploy about 40 officers into neighborhoods to focus on “crime hot spots.”

Nichols was allegedly killed during an encounter with officers from the SCORPION unit earlier this month, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Officers use unmarked vehicles to conduct traffic stops and seize illegal weapons. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland told the Journal that the unit, which is made up of four 10-person teams, has made 566 arrests since its creation.

A total of 390 of those have been felony arrests between October 2021 and January 23, 2022. In addition, the unit has seized about 253 weapons.

The City of Memphis last year on its website said that SCORPION was created to address violent crimes like “homicides, aggravated assaults, robberies and carjackings” within Memphis. The unit also addresses “motor vehicle thefts, theft from motor vehicles and other felony offenses.”

Lawyers for the Nichols family are asking the department to disband the unit and said that the unit has reportedly lost the trust of the community, according to the Journal.

Specialized units such as the SCORPION unit have been criticized and have faced scrutiny in cities all over the country. According to the Times, critics say the units “often target people of color and utilize tactics such as pretext stops.”

A pretext stop is reportedly when officers stop someone for a minor violation and then try to look for more serious crimes.

Strickland announced Friday that the department’s SCORPION unit is currently inactive due to the ongoing investigation into Nichols’ death, according to WHBQ.

“It is clear that these officers violated the department’s policies and training,” Strickland said in a statement. “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.”

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