FSPD does not use ‘Scorpion’ units because they can create ‘anger and distrust’

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 2,080 views 

The type of “Scorpion” police unit that existed in Memphis and whose members were part of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, has no place in Fort Smith because they typically “foster anger and distrust,” said Fort Smith Police Department spokesman Aric Mitchell.

Five Memphis police officers, who have been fired from the force, face murder charges related to the deadly beating of Nichols during a Jan. 7 traffic stop. Nichols, 29, would die three days later in a Memphis hospital. Nichols and the five officers are Black. The beating, which was recorded by police body cams, has again resulted in calls from many politicians and activist groups for broad police reform measures.

Nichols’ funeral was Wednesday (Feb. 1), with Vice President Kamala Harris attending.

Mitchell said the FSPD does not have street crime units like the Scorpion unit in Memphis, but the department does use temporary task force units to address specific issues.

“We assemble temporary task forces to address specific problems, such as the recent commercial burglaries, but their focus is very narrow. There is no suspension of the rules in regards to conduct, a supervisor is assigned to the task force, and as soon as the need for the task force is over, it is disbanded,” Mitchell explained.

He also said Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker receives frequent reports team from leaders on active investigations, “but he has deliberately avoided these types of Street Crime Units for the very problems we are now seeing play out on the national stage in such a horrific and appalling manner.” He said street crime units can work if they have “strong leadership and constant oversight,” but they often “foster anger and distrust in the community, which is why they currently have no place in Fort Smith.”

Mitchell said Baker has instead focused on community relations activities and crisis intervention training as part of the overall effort to reduce and respond to criminal activity. In an October 2022 interview with Talk Business & Politics, Baker said policing practices nationwide were getting better, but the momentum slowed.

“It (policing practices nationwide) was getting better. Changes were happening, but it seems things have slowed, and that really worries me,” Baker said at the time, suggesting that divisive national politics are partially responsible for rejection of community policing in some states and cities. “We’re still seeing too many egregious incidents that shouldn’t be happening.”

Mitchell said tragic incidents like that in Memphis result in conversations among FSPD supervisors, training staff and line officers with the focus on lessons to be learned.

“He (Baker) believes strongly in the constant re-evaluation of policies and processes to ensure the best possible outcomes are always found. Officers are encouraged to internalize incidents like this and ask themselves how they would respond in a similar situation,” Mitchell noted.

The FSPD is budgeted for 164 sworn officers and as of Jan. 31 had 158 active officers. The city of Fort Smith recently approved an almost 24% pay raise for officers to help recruit and retain officers.