It's Time to Save Lives | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

It's Time to Save Lives

Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which started Monday, has taken on a new urgency this year. Given the recent spate of domestic murders in Jackson that might have been prevented, it's clear that the people who most need their awareness raised about the issue are the city's administrators and the officers of the Jackson Police Department.

Mississippi ranked fifth in the nation in 2005 for women killed by their partners with handguns, yet when four different JPD officers had an opportunity to remove a potential abuser and the guns he was waving around from the home of Doris Shavers on Sept. 17, the officers decided instead to return the offender's guns because it was his "lucky day." This fateful decision resulted in Shavers' death, and JPD's behavior flies in the face of every expert's advice on how to respond to a domestic violence call, not to mention their lax enforcement of Mississippi's gun laws.

State law also mandates an arrest when abuse escalates to the felony level, which by all expert accounts—including the initial police reports—is exactly what happened in the case of Heather Spencer. In that case, someone in charge decided to reduce the charge against Spencer's eventual killer to a misdemeanor weeks before Spencer requested authorities drop the charges against George Bell III. As it turns out, her request had absolutely no effect on the charges: The misdemeanor warrant was served on Bell the day Spencer's body was discovered in his mother's house. Exactly what happened—and why—between Bell's first attack on Spencer and her death three months later remains a mystery: JPD and Chief Shirlene Anderson aren't talking, as usual.

Jackson has in its midst one of the state's best legal resources for dealing with domestic violence: the attorney general's Domestic Violence Division. Every day, Heather Wagner and her dedicated staff reach out to provide information and train law enforcement officers, DAs and judges. JPD needs to take steps to put every one of its officers through Wagner's training program immediately. In addition, the city's enforcement and legal community need to come together for a concerted effort at community outreach programs to break the deadly cycle of domestic abuse—and teach the community how to help prevent or stop domestic abuse.

The city of Jackson and JPD must take responsibility for their past actions and errors of omission, and put together a public plan for dealing with domestic violence. The citizens of Jackson deserve better than their business-as-usual, head-in-the-sand approach to violence and crime.

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