The five state senators who represent the city of Jackson said Thursday they would be working during the 2022 legislative session to increase the law enforcement presence and the number of prosecutors and judges to help fight the “war on crime” in the capital city.
By some metrics, Jackson is the nation’s most dangerous city. Homicide numbers have soared across the country the past two years, but based on cities with at least 100,000 population, Jackson’s per capita murder rate is the highest in the United States.
Sen. Sollie Norwood said “it would take an all hands on deck” approach by the local governments, schools, churches and parents, as well as the state Legislature, to deal with crime in the city.
He said much of the crime is, unfortunately, being committed by young people who should be in school.
Issues surrounding Jackson, the state’s largest city, have been a focus at the Capitol in recent years. Those issues include crime and an aging water and sewer system that often collapses during extreme cold spells and is being investigated by federal officials concerned about poor water quality.
For several years, Republican leadership of the Legislature and Democratic leaders of city government have been unable to agree on how to deal with those issues.
“We are not here to play the blame game,” said Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson. “We are here to say something needs to be done, and we all have roles.”
Horhn and the other senators pointed out that the legislative leadership and Gov. Tate Reeves are in agreement on increasing the number of state law enforcement officers in the Capitol Complex Improvement District, which runs from around the University of Mississippi Medical Center north of the Capitol building to Jackson State University south of the Capitol. Legislative leadership has called on increasing the approximately 75-member force by 50. Reeves, in his state-of-the-state address this week, called for doubling the number of Capitol Police officers.
“We hope this will allow the Jackson Police Department officials to patrol other areas of Jackson,” said Sen. Walter Michel, the only Republican senator representing portions of Jackson.
But Michel pointed out a previous study dating back 20 years said Jackson needed about 600 police officers to be effective in controlling crime. The city now has about 300, he said.
“A war between rival factions — some organized, some random — is being fought on the streets of Jackson right before our eyes,” Horhn said. “Citizens are afraid to leave their homes. Citizens are afraid to stay in their home. They are afraid their loved ones may fall victim to some foolishness. Visitors from other communities are afraid to come to Jackson for fear of catching a stray bullet … This situation is out of control. We are all going to have to come together to do something about it.”
He said both the state and local officials need a plan to deal with the crime issue.
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said that Mississippi was one of three states to lose population based on the 2020 Census, and as long as the state did not have “a vibrant” urban area it would be difficult to reverse that trend.
“This state cannot succeed and this state cannot grow unless Jackson is successful,” Blount said. “For people who live outside the city, you have a choice: help the city grow and get better or wash your hands of it and watch our state not grow … If we give up on Jackson, we give up on our state, and we are not going to do that.”
Highlighting the difficulty in getting everyone on the same page in dealing with issues facing Jackson, when asked to comment on the senators’ news conference, an official with the city government said: “We were not made aware of that or invited to it.”
In addition to the extra police officers, the senators said Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens has requested two more permanent assistant district attorneys and eight temporary assistant district attorneys to deal with a backlog of people charged with crimes. The senators said they are still waiting on clarification on how many additional temporary judges are needed. Hinds County already has two special judges working out of a state office building to deal with the backlog, Horhn said.
“We are trying our best to get the DA the tools he needs,” said Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson.
The senators also hope to garner about $600,000 in state funds to help with needed repairs at jails in Hinds County and Jackson.
Blount also expressed optimism that state funds would be available to help with water and sewer issues facing the city. The state has $1.8 billion in federal funds that are designated for such projects.