MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A Memphis activist is striving to build a better relationship between law enforcement and citizens who typically view police officers as enemies, believing that positive developments will make the community safer.
"The actual job of the officer is to protect you, to make sure you are safe, but in the community, they think it's different," Memphis community leader Detrick Saulter told Fox News. "Police is like the opposition."
"In the community, they think the job of the officer is to lock them up," he continued.
Memphis saw a record 346 murders last year, while major violent crimes increased 18% from 2019 through 2021, according to the most recent Tennessee Bureau of Investigation data. Trust in law enforcement plummeted nationwide after George Floyd's 2020 death, with only 45% of Americans having confidence in police, a July Gallup poll showed.
Saulter — who founded F.A.T.H.E.R.S., a nonprofit dedicated to encouraging fathers to maintain strong relationships with their children — described views he frequently sees cast on law enforcement in Memphis.
"A lot of people have a stereotype of the police," Saulter told Fox News. "When they pull up, it's automatically something wrong."
Being a leader in the community, Saulter said it's crucial for law enforcement and residents to have a strong relationship. He believes mutual trust and respect will lead to less crime in the city.
Steve Mulroy, the recently elected district attorney for Shelby County, which includes Memphis, echoed Saulter's sentiments. He told Fox News that the community would be more willing to cooperate with police if they felt less alienated which could "bend the curve on violent crime."
"A lot of stuff can be avoided if you just know the officer," Saulter told Fox News. "Even if something is going on, it'll be more a thought out process than just throwing someone in jail."
Saulter has been hosting officers at events he organizes for Memphis fathers' and youth so a "more regular type of relationship" can be formed.
"The kids need to see a better relationship between the police and the parents or the police and the guys in the community, so it won't always be a negative stereotype when they pull up," he said.
"The last two or three events we've had, the new police director's been there," Saulter told Fox News. Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis goes into "the community, shaking hands with people, hugging people."
The F.A.T.H.E.R.S. founder recently saw Davis walk by during a parade.
People in the neighborhood "who would usually be running from her" actually "began cheering for her," Saulter said. "It's because she's active in the community, she's actually trying to reach out to people in the community."
Officers have also begun hosting recruiting sessions at some of Saulter's programs.
"If you from our neighborhood and you become a police, that's a great thing," the nonprofit founder told Fox News. "It'll be less likely for you to kill one of us because you know us."
"I would have rather been an officer than an inmate," Saulter, who spent five years in prison on charges for selling cocaine, added.
Saulter said he made it a point to connect with police to set an example for the rest of the city. Now, he feels he has a positive relationship with law enforcement.
"It's a lot of work to be done but it's worth it," he told Fox News.