Gov. Tate Reeves and state Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said beginning Thursday state troopers, the Capitol Police and state narcotics officers will start an initiative “aimed at upholding public safety in the capital city.”
“We’re seeing it every night on Jackson’s local news, a never ending cycle of violent crime,” Reeves said at a press conference on Wednesday. “… People of Jackson are not asking for much. They’re asking for the ability to walk down the street and not fear for their lives. I stand with the residents of the city of Jackson.”
As violent crime in many large cities across the country continues to increase during the pandemic, Mississippi’s capital city is no exception. Jackson saw a record number of homicides last year — 130 — and is on pace to surpass that with killings approaching 80 so far this year. The crime wave prompted one Jackson city councilman last week to publicly propose calling out the National Guard to patrol city streets.
Lawmakers this year approved major increases in power, authority and spending for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. This included a new law that would allow Highway Patrol troopers to patrol and run radar on highways or interstates within larger cities, and another putting DPS in charge of the Capitol Police force, which previously served as more of a security force for state-owned property downtown.
Capitol Police will have an expanded presence and serve more of a law enforcement role in the Capitol Complex Improvement District, which stretches roughly from Jackson State University to Interstate 55, and up to Fondren just past the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Tindell said residents will see a greater police presence, with a “saturation” of all available Capitol Police patrol officers and vehicles downtown, troopers on Interstates 55, 20 and 220, and that the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics will increase “clandestine” drug operations with local and federal agencies inside Jackson. Tindell would not give specific numbers or shifts of patrols, but said Capitol Police has 81 officers, a number he hopes to increase to 150 soon.
No city of Jackson or Jackson Police Department officials were invited to Wednesday’s press conference, Reeves said, but he and Tindell said the new state-led effort is aimed at assisting JPD, not supplanting it. They said the state help in the Capitol Complex should allow JPD to focus officers elsewhere. Both also said repeatedly they don’t expect the state efforts to solve the city’s crime problem.
“The goal here is to have a safer capital city,” Tindell said. “The citizens of Mississippi should be able to visit their capital city, their capital hospital and state museums without fear of being raped or murdered while visiting their capital city.”
In a statement released late Wednesday, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the city welcomes the state’s efforts, but “….The problem of crime is not going to be solved through policing alone.
“The state’s efforts to better streamline its law enforcement agencies and bolster communication in and around the Capitol City Complex and state highways is within its jurisdiction. The city and Jackson Police Department welcome the commitment to greater collaboration and support. However, we must also apply the same effort toward authoring solutions that address the root of the problem. The state has failed to provide adequate funding in this regard. In order to realize true impact, it is necessary to also stand up and bolster the social supports and community programs that lift up our communities by addressing issues of poverty, joblessness, mental health, gaps in education and opportunity and more.”
Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson, said he encourages the governor and state leaders in the future to meet with local leaders, including the Hinds County legislative delegation, to discuss possible solutions.
“Crime is up in the city of Jackson, and there needs to be a solution,” he said.
Bell said the initiative unveiled Wednesday by the governor and Tindell would help by providing a “show of force.” But he said efforts need to be made on the local and state levels to look for “grants that are available to provide raises for officers. That will help increase the size of the force.”
Reeves urged the city of Jackson and Hinds County to use a portion of about $95 million the local governments are receiving in federal American Rescue Plan funds to beef up law enforcement in Jackson.
Bell said most of the crime issues are located within neighborhoods, many outside of the Capitol Improvement District.
“The real issue is to have officers patrolling in neighborhoods, not on the highways,” he said.
Bell also stressed that it is important while providing that show of force not to have law enforcement harassing people for no reason.
“I am not saying it is happening,” he said, but added that should be kept in mind.
“While we are very appreciative of the efforts of Commissioner Tindell, we need dialog to continue going forward,” Bell said.
Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said, “Like many other parts of the country, crime in Jackson has grown considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a lot of lawlessness regarding driving behaviors and certainly violent death have risen exponentially.
“Concern about the rise in violent deaths is about the only thing that supersedes concerns about our crumbling infrastructure,” Horhn continued. “That’s why the Legislature took the actions it took, and I’m glad the governor is moving swiftly to implement these changes.”
The new law allowing MHP to patrol and run radar on interstates within large cities was authored by Jackson’s state Senate delegation. It was in response to an incident early this year where people shut down part of Interstate 55 for about an hour holding an impromptu drag racing and burnout session, and reports of similar recent incidents. The new law also requires cities to notify state troopers whenever a federal roadway is blocked. Previously, highway patrol officers were prohibited from setting up radar or patrols inside cities of 15,000 or more.
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said the measure was also supported by representatives of other large cities across the state.
“The future success of Jackson depends on a cooperative relationship between the state government and city government,” said Blount, the primary author of the bill giving troopers the authority to operate radar on state highways in cities above 15,000. He said the Jackson delegation supported both the bill placing the Capitol police under the Department of Public Safety and the radar bill.
“We think the bills will be positive steps for the city of Jackson,” Blount said.
While DPS is not officially a state police force overseeing all state law enforcement like in some other states, the agency is seeing major expansion in its duties and authority. The agency already oversees the Highway Patrol, Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, state office of Homeland Security and the crime lab and medical examiners. But the attorney general, state auditor and other agencies still retain their own state-level law enforcement.
Besides taking over Capitol Police and the expansion of Highway Patrol’s authority inside large cities, DPS is now taking over commercial traffic enforcement duties from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations was designated the lead agency for officer-involved shootings statewide.
Lawmakers also approved allowing other state agencies to contract with DPS for law enforcement work, such as for state Child Protection Services and the Board of Medical Licensure and other agencies that frequently need law enforcement or investigative authority and officers.
Lawmakers also appropriated $24 million to DPS this year to complete a new headquarters for the agency in Rankin County. Groundbreaking on the headquarters, with a total cost of $60 million to $80 million, is expected in early 2022, and will allow the agency to bring all its enforcement divisions under one roof.
Lawmakers did not approve DPS’ request for a 6% raise for officers, although some officers should see raises from an across-the-board state employee discretionary merit pay raise.