Video footage of the brutal police beating of Tyre Nichols has reignited the national conversation on policing in America, as well as brought increased scrutiny to specialized police units.
The Memphis Police Department disbanded its SCORPION team, a specialized unit formed in 2021 to fight violent street crime, over the weekend after five of its members were charged in the death of Nichols.
Bill Bratton, the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and former commissioner of the New York City Police Department, said the Memphis unit ran into trouble because it lacked necessary training.
“The nature of these units require significant supervision, something that was apparently missing in the SCORPION unit in Memphis,” he told CBS News. “And then, most importantly, training, training and training.”
A former Memphis police officer, who asked that his name not be used due to the sensitivity of the situation, told CBS News the SCORPION unit’s training consisted of three days of PowerPoint presentations, one day of suspect apprehension training and one day at the firing range.
Similar issues have plagued units in cities like Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. In 2017, Baltimore’s gun trace task force was disbanded and eight officers were later convicted of racketeering and extortion, among other charges.
In Memphis, the SCORPION unit had gained its own reputation.
“It’s a militarized, undercover culture that runs into communities,” community activist Devante Hill told CBS News. “There are these special units that actually cause more harm than they do help in the community.”
Though the Memphis Police Department said it is “permanently” deactivating the SCORPION unit, Bratton said such anti-crime task forces are essential to policing — when there is proper training and supervision.