The Jackson Police Department has taken some heavy blows in recent conversations concerning Jackson—even as crime in the city has been on a steady decline over the last three years, particularly in Precinct 1.
In a recent interview with the Jackson Free Press, JPD Assistant Chief Lee Vance praised Precinct 1's work to cut down on property crime, specifically house burglaries.
"You can go back maybe three years and see that the house burglaries in Precinct 1 in South Jackson were averaging maybe 40 to 50 house burglaries per week. If you look at it now, we had 16 last week and 11 this week. ... It was so outstanding."
The most recently updated COMSTAT report indicates that house burglaries in Precinct 1 have dropped 19.3 percent just in the last year. Vance says the crime reduction for that area resulted from increasing police visibility, as well as the neighborhood-watch program's collaboration with the police department.
In his recent interview with the JFP Editorial Board, Ward 6 Councilman and mayoral candidate Tony Yarber talked about crime reduction in his ward. Yarber said that with the help of a man by the name of John Sledge, they established and maintained a relationship between the police department and the neighborhood watch program.
Sledge, 56, is a community member who leads the Creston Neighborhood Watch Group. Sledge, who is originally from Monroe, La., has lived in Jackson since 1965. He explained in an interview that although he is disabled, he took it upon himself to help create and recruit residents for the neighborhood watch program.
"We're wanting to take back our neighborhoods," Sledge said. "We want to bring Jackson back to what it was."
The Hinds County Sheriff's Department set up the program that currently has 20 "block captains" who assist their neighbors by individually watching approximately 12 houses in their neighborhood and collectively covering six square miles in the entire area. These block captains keep record of their neighbors' phone numbers and if any suspicious activity is detected during their routine survey, mainly unfamiliar people walking into neighbors' yards, they immediately contact the person's home or report it to police.
Even though everyone cannot be a block captain, Sledge said, many residents try to do their part by keeping watch. He explained that having a large number of people with their eyes on the street is the key to combating crime in the area.
"They (criminals) use numbers—we use numbers," Sledge said.
Sledge decided that a neighborhood watch, rather than a homeowner's association, was the best fit for a neighborhood association. The reason was that many of the residents in his area are low-income, and he did not want residents to have to pay a monthly fee to feel secure, especially when everyone is trying to do their part.
The precinct and neighborhood-watch program are not without their challenges, however.
Sledge explained that because the precinct and the neighborhood watch have a working relationship, the two don't always see eye-to-eye about when to classify a situation as urgent, and the debate is usually over petty crimes.
He gave the example that if someone was drawing graffiti in the neighborhood, a neighborhood watcher might see that situation as more urgent than a police officer. However, it's ultimately JPD's call whether to make an arrest and, for the most part, the neighborhood watch respects JPD's decisions.
"It's Jackson Police Department's decision how to classify these things that happen, and that's part of some of our disagreements," Sledge said. "To us, crime is crime, and that's everywhere, but they have to use their own judgment to distinguish."
Sledge said that the group had been working with late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba before his passing to create more neighborhood watch groups modeled after the one in Precinct 1.
It is Sledge's hope that, with the help of JPD, they may continue on in their efforts to replicate the success of Precinct 1 across the board.
"It's a team effort," Sledge said. "It's not just one person. It takes everybody to make this situation work, and for the last two years we've done really well.
"We have a 68 percent rental base, which changes constantly, but we're able to stay on top of it. The precinct works real well with us. Sometimes we have issues ... but we have a good working relationship with the police department and the sheriff's department."