Mayor Frank Melton said he is responsible for the remarkable rise in violent crime in the city last Friday. "I am accountable for that, and the buck stops with me," Melton told reporters.
Last month, the Jackson Free Press reported that crime rose dramatically in 2006, numbers confirmed last week by the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for 2006. That report showed a 42 percent increase in violent crime and a 10 percent increase in property crime.
It's an embarrassing situation for a mayor who ran on a campaign promise to "end crime in 90 days."
Melton, rather than Police Chief Shirlene Anderson, reacted to the sour FBI information by unveiling new police strategies to battle crime. Many of his ideas reflect the same tactics he lauded earlier in his term, many of which proved unconstitutional, uneconomical or ineffective.
One aspect of the mayor's crime plan is his promise to hold suspects in violent crimes without bond, and for all suspects arrested to be seen by a judge before allowing bond.
"When someone uses a weapon to hurt another human being, they should be held without bond," Melton said, ignoring the fact that suspects in gun and weapons crimes or aggravated assault charges are already routinely held without bond. The mayor's 2005 pledge to hold suspects in jail by imposing abnormally high bonds was decried by legal experts as an unconstitutional violation of due process.
Melton also proposed activating night court, vowing to "have some additional night court judges over there." The state Legislature, however, must approve any new judges presiding over night court, and it will not hold another regular session until next year.
Melton's plan also involves activating purportedly underused sections of the police department for patrol duty.
"We'll use the SWAT unit in some of our high-crime areas around the city. All of our certified officers assigned to headquarters will be re-assigned to the street," Melton said. "That includes specialized units, narcotics, the gun interdiction unit, commanders and executive staff."
That idea is "smoke and mirrors," according to one police officer. "There is really no such animal as 'desk duty' in the police department," said the officer, who wished to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the media. "Detectives go on patrols, as do the Quality of Life officers ... There's a vehicle manager, but the 'desk job' in the evidence room is no longer there. Everybody's already doing patrols at some point during their work hours."
Master Police Officer Juan Cloy, who is on the SWAT unit, said the mayor's plan to activate the SWAT Unit in high-crime areas seems to ignore the fact that the team already patrols those areas as part of its regular duties.
The mayor's plan to "secure" additional jail space "immediately" appears equally dubious. He was not forthcoming on how such an effort could be funded. "I've been talking to Ben Allen about it, and we're going to come up with something," Melton said.
Ward 2 Councilman Leslie McLemore asked at a Monday special meeting if the city should consider another mill increase. "I'm looking for a recommendation from the mayor's office. ... It's going to take money to do these things," McLemore said.
The council already approved a two-mill property tax hike last year to hire more police officers and fire fighters, and to repave streets. Despite the tax hike, the Melton administration announced a $3.9 million budget deficit this year and proposed deep cuts to city personnel and services.
Although presenting budget proposals is the executive branch's sole responsibility, Melton has asked City Council to help him devise means for paying for his proposals.
"I'm going to need the help of this entire council to come up with the money ... Mr. (Charles) Tillman is chairman of the Budget Committee. Mr. Tillman, in my view, should take the lead role in finding whatever money that law enforcement needs to do the things that they need to do," Melton said.
Melton touted some aspects of his plan as new ideas, though the city is already doing them. The mayor suggested the city coordinate its major narcotics cases with the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, but Anderson told the council on Monday that the city is already working with outside agencies.
"We're working with any department that's willing to work with us," Anderson said. "We're working with the local MBN. We just had some of their guys down here, working with us."
The mayor also promised the "activation of Metro One over the city." Metro One is the name of a private helicopter shared by Jackson and surrounding cities. It has already been buzzing over rooftops for months.
Melton's plan to increase recruitment "of 75 to 100 new officers" may be the easiest for the city to accomplish. Allen said at the June 11meeting that the city's budget already allocates for the paychecks of more than 470 officers. The city currently has about 430 officers, so paying the salaries of some new recruits will not be a problem.
The centerpiece of Melton's presentation last Friday, though, was the Technical Operations Center, a facility financed through a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The center currently has 45 cameras in service, most shared with the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The system has the capacity for 246 cameras, however, and Melton said he wants electronic eyes throughout the city, including neighborhoods, to act as a deterrent and to help in building cases against suspects.
"I want to show you how fascinating this is," Melton said, directing an operator at a desk to zoom in on several vehicles. "These cameras can pick up license plate numbers or faces."
Melton's showpiece was the result of somebody's else's hard work, however.
"We sent out for that U.S. Department of Justice grant when I was in office," said former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. "There were some cameras in place when I left office, and we were the ones who got the money to fund them. ... For a year or more, I heard, it hasn't been utilized, but we bought the equipment, the cameras, the whole nine yards."
Mississippi ACLU Public Education Coordinator Brent Cox said the surveillance system is anathema to the spirit of a free country. "It's an issue of accountability, of oversight," Cox said. "In America, we oversee our governments. We monitor our government, but this camera system, as far as I can tell, has no method of oversight."
Cox said that the city should tell neighborhoods if they're about to have a camera and why they're about to get one. The city should allow a period for public input on the matter before going forward with the installation. "Neighbors should also be able to go in and review film footage at any time, to insure the police aren't abusing these cameras," Cox added.
I'm not sure where to put this, but I assume all of our Melton watchers caught Goliath's piece on the FBI questioning Jonathan Larkin and David Watkins. It seems there may be a hiccup in the story, however.
A Jackson Public Schools board member and an attorney for the school district confirmed Tuesday they have been questioned by the FBI.
However, Larkin just told the JFP: "I've never confirmed that the FBI has spoken to me."
Meanwhile, David Watkins said he gave this statement to The Clarion-Ledger:
"I cannot confirm or deny (talking to the FBI), becasuse even if they had contacted me, I could not disclose that because I represent the school board and would need authority from the board to disclose it, if appropriate."
Butt-covering from the subjects, or major screwup by Goliath? You decide.
- Brian C Johnson
You may want to move it to the JPS Contract article or the Larkin is threatened article.
Knowing someone personally that was misquoted by the Clarion Ledger, it is more than likely possible that they misquoted the two men. However, since they are begging for people to call the reporters (if you notice their phone numbers are at the bottom of the articles asking for comments), anyone could have called them and said they were Watkins or Larkin and given them a statement knowing that would irk the FBI.
Cox made some important points. Who's watching Big Brother?
Certainly not the incarcerated of Jackson, for they elected the jester to office.
Certainly not the judicial system, for the want to see jackson fail and are scared of Frankie-Boy.
Here's another "It's the DA's Fault" story from WLBT.
Denson added, "I'm tired. I want something done. I want to go and look at these boys straight in the face. I want to them them how I feel. I want to take them a Bible apiece."
The South Jackson resident found out in January through a newspaper article that the teens were released.
She calls the Hinds County District Attorneys Office regularly but says there's been no movement on the case.
Question: Why didn't the reporter find out if JPD even handed the case over to the DA's office. Who or Why were the youths released in October last year if they had no bond set? Where is the other youth that is still free? How about more in depth reporting WLBT?
Be apart of the solution, not the problem WLBT.
Pike, that's because they got just what they wanted with that statement. Folks can easily say, "Well, she must know since she's the one dealing with it." I'm not saying that the woman is being deceitful, but I would expect the reporter to get both sides of the story.
Exactly, I feel for the victim and she needs her day in court. But, to just assume that it's Hinds Co. fault when JPD may not have passed the case onto the DA's office isn't good reporting. Or maybe the police report and supporting evidence is weak or the DA has asked for additional information from JPD? There is so much to our justice system to just try and blame any one person.
Also, you would think after they talked with Judge Skinner, they may want to be more suspect of JPD than the DA's office. But, they have an agenda, and that is to elect Melton's cronies.
Thanks Brian C Johnson for sharing the link with Adam Lynch's article. We can always depend on the JFP to come up with the "DRAGNET" (nothing but the facts).
I sometimes wonder if this administration is so saturated with people of bad character that they actually forget the lies they tell: The things they do: And why they did them.
I keep hoping for change in a positive direction for this City. I think McLemore's idea about another tax increase will be a slap in the face to the already burdened taxpayers of Jackson.