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After Tyre Nichols' beating death, Memphis police 'SCORPION Unit' under fire

Noah Goldberg, James Queally and Libor Jany, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In early 2022, as violent crime rose in Memphis, Mayor Jim Strickland set out his ideas for returning safety to the city.

At the top of his plan: increase funding to the Memphis Police Department, give raises and bonuses to officers, and continue the usage of the city’s newly formed “SCORPION Unit,” a specialized group of four roving 10-person teams that use data to target high-crime neighborhoods with the goal of addressing homicides and other violent crime.

In just a few months, Strickland said the unit had made 566 arrests and seized more than 250 weapons.

But the quick-strike unit that received his plaudits almost exactly one year ago is now under review by the police chief since five of the 40 officers belonging to SCORPION were charged with murder in the Jan. 7 beating of Tyre Nichols, who died days later. The SCORPION Unit — which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods — has reportedly been inactive since the violent encounter.

The alleged killing by SCORPION officers — and the planned Friday release of the video detailing the beating of Nichols — has reinvigorated critiques of specialized anti-crime teams across the country and could result in the disbanding of SCORPION.

“From Baltimore to Chicago and D.C., units like the SCORPION unmarked cars — regardless of what the units are named — cause terror in minority communities,” said the attorneys for Nichols’ family, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, in a letter to the Memphis Police Department calling for the unit to be disbanded.


Activists and defense attorneys in Memphis said the SCORPION unit is notoriously violent and known for targeting impoverished areas.

“They essentially prey on low-income Memphians,” said Amber Sherman, an organizer with the Black Lives Matter Memphis chapter.

The SCORPION unit was created as Memphis was going through a particularly disturbing rise in homicides.

The city logged 342 killings in 2021, the most in its history. The SCORPION Unit was implemented in October of that year.


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