As covid still looms, solutions for crime must go deeper

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Brad Franklin

Crime. As a buzzword or campaign talking point, it’s been the top issue for most folks in the metro area for the better part of five years. Its the go-to rib of detractors in surrounding bedroom communities and the talk in every comment section of local news stations’ social media feeds. It’s become a daily occurrence…and it shouldn’t be.

I had the opportunity to speak with Interim Hinds County Sheriff Marshand Crisler for this week’s edition of the Jackson Advocate. Ironically, he arrived for our interview only moments after leaving the scene of another double shooting at a convenience store on the corner of West and Fortification streets. And while the victims in those shootings weren’t killed, it doesn’t change the fact that we will soon reach 100 homicides in the capital city and we still have four months left in the year.

But, here’s where the road begins to fork…at least for me. Most Jacksonians have placed our crime issues solely at the feet of an overwhelmed police force. JPD is probably 500 or more officers below standard for a city our size. Officers are working more hours, with more hazard, for less pay. The staff in 911 communications is down to single digits. It’s easy to lay this at the feet of a sitting mayor or police chief, because well, it’s easy. Crime of course, is the perfect foil for any administration that you don’t like; every administration for the past decade has dealt with it. But its a multi-layered problem that requires viewing it from multiple vantage points. The surface solution most people have of “firing the police chief” and  “beefing up the police force” isn’t going to cut it.

I browse social media and one would think Jackson is smack dab in the middle of a bombed out Beirut where the cartel is murdering citizens in the middle of the street in broad daylight. Blood running under bombed out police cars into the sewers.

But, I don’t know if folks are really looking at the fact that we’ve been in the midst of a global pandemic for over a year. Several months of that, we were quarantined. Folks have lost jobs, businesses, and money. They’ve been stuck inside – some folks with people they can’t stand – for months. Venues have been closed. Families have been evicted. People have watched loved ones die. And some of those who passed were the breadwinners. Tensions are at an all time high. Anxieties are at an all time high. And consequently, mental health is at an all time low, as well as folks’ pocketbooks. If we’re being honest, profits by legal and “illegal” means have been affected as well. It’s the perfect storm.

We’re not going to “law and order” our way out of this problem. And we won’t make any headway by “politicizing” the issue.

Tate Reeves turned state troopers loose in downtown Jackson and on Interstate 220 as a “deterrent”. Sure, that keeps legislators at the Capitol and parts of Fondren safe (the least affected areas of the city). But it does nothing for Ward 3 or the overlooked parts of Ward 7 where a majority of the city’s homicides have taken place. You don’t prevent crime by writing tickets for going five miles over the speed limit. But, if you suggest actual tangible methodology to slowing down what’s happening in the city, most will balk at it. The more sexy option is to blame the mayor and law enforcement. It gets “likes” and shares on Facebook. We’ve got to realize that the “appearance” of work getting done is not the real “work” that needs to get done. You want press conferences and public statements. Hollow solutions like removing shoes from power lines. But every “affect” has a core “cause”. And it’s time we start putting more resources toward those.

We’ve got to start talking sentencing, bail amounts, jail space, poverty, conflict resolution, parental involvement, neighborhood associations, and joblessness. We’ve got to understand that post-Covid, you’re not going to get people to sign up for the police academy en masse for the salaries that this city currently offers. And they’re definitely not going to sign up for the stress of working a 911 switchboard when it barely pays a living wage. And even if, by some stroke of luck, we could have officers literally draping the city, they still wouldn’t be able to stop domestic disputes, crimes of passion, drug deals gone bad, and arguments gone wrong, which is what the majority of our crime is. Folks aren’t being randomly shot and targeted in this city. And you’re not “putting your life in danger” by coming to Jackson as folks in neighboring counties would have you believe.

The fact is – every police force in every city of comparable size is seeing spikes in crime. We will be no different. Until we’re past the worst of Covid, life as we have known it will be different. Covid hasn’t been just a public health issue, it’s become an economic one and what we’re seeing now is the product.