As a criminal defense attorney, Chuck Mullins handles felony cases in Jackson, Hinds County, Mississippi and all over the state. The recent news that city of Jackson is 4th in nation in violent crime and property crime once again demonstrates the lack of a solid crime fighting plan by the city leaders. Instead of fighting the core problem (education, poverty, etc.) the city of Jackson continues to be reactionary. Here is the story:
Violent crime and property crime rose in Jackson in 2008, making the city’s murder and burglary rates among the worst in the nation, according to an FBI report released this week.
Those statistics put pressure on the incoming administration of Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., especially in light of a Clarion-Ledger poll of voters prior to the May 5 mayoral primary that found respondents believed fighting crime should be the highest priority for the next administration.
The FBI report, which measures major crimes in cities with populations of 100,000 or more around the nation, showed violent crime increased in the city 9.3 percent and property crime rose 4.6 percent. The city rates buck a trend of lowering crime rates nationwide where violent crime fell 2.5 percent and property crime dropped by 1.6 percent.
The city’s rate of 36 murders per 100,000 residents ranked fourth in the nation behind New Orleans, St. Louis and Baltimore. Jackson’s burglary rate of 248 per 100,000 residents ranked second only to Flint, Mich.
“No one should be comfortable hearing those statistics,” said Coyt Bailey, executive director of the crime watchdog group SafeCity. “We should be outraged. We should be upset about this, and we should expect a lot from our public officials.”
The report covers Sheriff Malcolm McMillin’s tenure as police chief and the final full year of Mayor Frank Melton’s term. McMillin was out of town Wednesday and unavailable for comment, and Melton died last month two days after being rushed to St. Dominic Hospital.
Police Chief Tyrone Lewis did not respond to a request for comment, but Assistant Police Chief Lee Vance said there is no lack of determination on the part of the city’s police force to address the problem.
“Chief Lewis and I are looking for people who are as determined as we are. I’ve got officers running through the woods to chase down house burglars,” he said. “We are going to make this place safer. We’re going to keep at it.”
Crime was perhaps the top issue in this year’s mayoral race, which concluded Tuesday with a general election victory for Johnson. On the campaign trial, Johnson promised to hire more police officers, reinstate JPD’s crime-prevention unit and create a unit to work with crime victims and their families.
In an interview Wednesday, Johnson was more circumspect on what needs to be done to reduce crime.
“As mayor, I’m not a professional law enforcement officer. You have to rely on professional law enforcement officers,” he said. “Mayors don’t necessarily formulate crime-fighting plans. They provide the leadership and resources to professional crime-fighting personnel.”
Johnson said he wants to revisit the Maple-Linder study, a report prepared for the city nearly a decade ago during Johnson’s first stint as mayor. The report made a number of recommendations for the Police Department, including increasing the force to a total of 680 officers over three to five years, but many of the recommendations were never implemented.
The increase in violent crime is not unexpected. The city’s homicides spiked last year to a level not seen in more than a decade.
Vance said the problem is thorny because so many of the crimes involved “relationship issues.”
“People who know each other tended to get into arguments that spiral into deadly violence,” he said. “If I knew the answer to that, we would put in a plan to do something about it. It’s very difficult to predict, so it’s difficult to prevent.”
Vance noted the current pace of homicides is well behind 2008.
Vance said JPD is attempting to address the city’s problem with burglaries by sending more officers into high-crime areas. But he said it is time for an “honest dialogue” on how much the Police Department can accomplish alone.
“We have not ducked our responsibilities as a police department at all, but we are arresting 11-year-olds for breaking into houses, we are arresting offenders for multiple burglaries,” he said. “We are arresting these same individuals for these same crimes.”
In addition, Vance points to the Mississippi Department of Corrections’ early release of thousands of nonviolent offenders “back into the Jackson metropolitan area” in the past year as another factor in the city’s problems.
“That has to be part of the dialogue, when you start discussing how to improve the situation,” he said.
Jackson lawyer and former state Rep. John Reeves is critical of the city’s response to crime. His south Jackson home has been burglarized four times in the past 15 months.
Reeves said his televisions and electronics have been stolen so many times, he now keeps their replacements in storage. He said he had a locksmith install deadbolt locks on interior doors so his children can lock themselves in at night and he sleeps with a loaded shotgun next to his bed.
“My daughters are scared to death to go in the house. They won’t even go in the back of the house without me with them,” he said. “We’re living like we are the bad guys.”
Reeves said he finally went into his neighborhood and located an informant who said he would tell police who was behind the burglaries. But Reeves said JPD detectives have not acted on the tip.
“I’ve got the name and number of the informant and his mother’s name and number and his father’s name and number,” he said. “This is what the police should have been doing.”
Deputy Police Chief Gerald Jones said he has spoken with Reeves about his case and was left with the understanding that the informant did not want to speak to the police. Reeves said that is not true and that his informant is waiting for JPD to call.
Reeves, who has asked the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department for help with his case, said the Police Department is making excuses while the city becomes “a war zone.”
Jones said he is not unsympathetic to crime victims’ feelings. “After doing this job for almost 30 years,” he said, “you understand their angst and frustration.”
Staff writer Blair Goldstein contributed to this report.To comment on this story, call Chris Joyner at (601) 360-4619.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.