Gov. Tate Reeves answers questions from the media after signing qualifying paperwork to run for reelection at the Mississippi Republican Headquarters in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

When Gov. Tate Reeves signed legislation to create a separate court and police district within Jackson, he said the focus was public safety and used various statistics to make his point about crime in the capital city. 

“Jackson has to be better,” he said in an April 21 statement. “This legislation won’t solve the entire problem, but if we can stop one shooting, if we can respond to one more 911 call – then we’re one step closer to a better Jackson.”

As the law faces two lawsuits seeking to block it from going into effect in July, Mississippi Today is fact checking some of the claims Reeves made and providing more context about what these numbers say and efforts Jackson police and leaders are taking to address crime and community safety. 

Claim: “The capital city is approximately 6% of Mississippi’s population yet, in 2020, accounted for more than 50% of the homicides in our state.”

Reeves is incorrect about the number and portion of homicides committed in Jackson compared to the rest of the state. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks homicide mortality for all states, and in 2020 found that Mississippi’s rate was 20.5 per 100,000, which was 576 homicides. 

Half of the CDC number would be 288 homicides in Jackson – a number that is higher than the 130 recorded in 2020 and higher than the city’s all-time high of 157 set in 2021.

Gov. Reeves may have reviewed information from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report expanded homicide data for 2020, which says Mississippi had 213 homicides and Jackson had 107, which is roughly 50%

But this data does come with limitations. In 2020, 113 of 251 law enforcement agencies in the state reported crime data to the FBI, meaning calculations made about it are not complete. 

Claim: “In 2021, Jackson’s homicide rate was almost 100 murders per 100,000 residents – nearly 13 times higher than the U.S. rate of 7.8 per 100,000.”

Reeves is correct about the capital city’s homicide rate for 2021 compared to the national homicide rate. 

The way to calculate the homicide rate is to divide the total number of homicides,155, by the total population, estimated at 156,800, and multiply that result by 100,000, which would result in a rate of nearly 100 homicides per 100,000. 

A similar figure has also been reported in local and national news sources.

City leaders have acknowledged Jackson’s high number of homicides and, along with community members, have tried to find ways to address crime, including by taking a more holistic approach. 

Jackson is launching an office focused on violence prevention and trauma recovery. 

During a January forum with the U.S. Marshals Service, participants from the city said they want to see root causes of crime such as poverty, trauma and mental health to be addressed and the support of community violence interruption and credible messenger programs, which aim to prevent crime and people’s involvement in the criminal justice system. 

Claim: “In 2022, it (the homicide rate) was approximately 88.9. On the global level, Jackson found itself in the company of Tijuana, Acapulco, and Caracas as one of the most dangerous places in the world.”

Reeves is correct that Jackson’s homicide rate last year would rank it among the Mexican cities of Tijuana and Acapulco and the Venezuelan city of Caracas with high homicide rates.

In 2022, Jackson had 135 homicides and a population of about 156,800,  giving the city a rate of about 87 per 100,000, according to data kept by the city and shared with Mississippi Today. 

The Citizens Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, based in Mexico, releases yearly rankings of the most violent cities in the world. Its report for homicides in 2022 ranked Tijuana as fifth with a homicide rate of 105.12 per 100,000 and Acapulo at tenth with a rate of 65.55 per 100,000. 

Its list does not include Jackson, but if it did based on a homicide rate of 87 per 100,000, the capital city would rank seventh. 

Instead, the first United States city listed is New Orleans in eighth with a homicide rate of 70.56 per 100,000. 

Another list of the most dangerous cities in 2022 by Statista ranks Tijuana, Acapulco and Caracas as the top three with homicide rates of nearly 100 and higher. 

Again, Jackson is not mentioned on the list, but based on its rate for 2022, it would make the top five. The only U.S. cities mentioned are St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit and New Orleans. 

Claim: “We can arrest all the violent criminals in the city, but if the judicial system puts them right back on the street—what have we really accomplished?”

Reeves does not specify who in the judicial system is allegedly responsible for releasing people nor does he provide evidence that this is happening. 

If someone is arrested on a felony charge in Jackson, a Hinds County judge has a say in whether to approve bail, which if paid could allow the person to await their next court date from home, or to order them to be held in jail before trial. 

Rep. Ed Blackmon Jr., D-Canton, who has spoken out against HB 1020, said under the state constitution and presumption of innocence, people have a right to bail. It’s a judge’s discretion of what amount to set and whether to allow bond. 

“The judges in Hinds County follow the same guidelines as any judicial district in Mississippi,” he said, referring to rules and guidelines for bond release set by the Mississippi Supreme Court.  

Blackmon said the state should not be empowered to hold a person who has not yet been convicted unless there is a reason, such as they are a flight risk or if they pose a risk to public safety. 

It is possible for people to be released on their own recognizance without posting bail, but this release is usually for minor and nonviolent offenses and whether the person isn’t found to be a safety threat to the community or if they don’t have an existing criminal record. If they fail to appear in court, an arrest warrant could be issued. 

For years, Jackson police officials have also been talking about how the lack of a misdemeanor holding facility has led to letting most people charged with misdemeanor offenses go until their appearances in Municipal Court.

Between March 2020 and November 2021, police released at least 3,000 people charged with misdemeanors, Chief James Davis said during a community meeting in November 2021. 

Police haven’t been able to take those charged with misdemeanors to the Raymond Detention Center because of a 2016 federal consent decree.

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Mina, a California native, covers the criminal justice system. Before joining Mississippi Today, she was a reporter for the Clarion Ledger and newspapers in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and USA Today.