Crime in Perspective: Civic leaders search for answers
With talk of a new Children’s museum and the current construction of the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience coming to a close in April; it would seem Meridian has great things to look forward to. However, in light of these positive additions, most everyone will agree that we have a crime problem in Meridian.
According to the data collection website city-data.com, in 2015 the city saw seven murders, 18 rapes, 67 assaults, and 1,231 thefts; while in 2016 there was a total of eight murders, 24 rapes, 74 assaults, and a slight drop with 985 thefts.
While we may not have total numbers for 2017; the year so far has proven to have what many call a spike in crime. With five deadly shootings in the last several weeks and an additional shooting that occurred just last night; the city looks for answers.
"First off I believe it's important to say that there is a difference between a crime spike and the crime rate. What we saw in October was a crime spike; especially violent crimes, but that's not really a part of the long-term trend.” Said Weston Lindemann, city councilman for ward 5.
“We have had a spike in crime. We're calling it a spike because it is not a consistent system of crime, but it is a spike; it's gone up. Overall for the year we are about where we were last year; but the perception because of this spike, I think that's what has the public concerned,” Dr. George Thomas, councilman for ward 1 said. "It also has the police department concerned; it's not just the public. The police are just as concerned as anyone else because it's their job."
“I don't think there is a really big crime problem in Meridian. There is a crime problem, but I don't believe it's a big crime problem. I think this is a trend that is nation-wide, and we just happen to be caught up in it. I think I've stated earlier that our criminal element in this day and time is quite different from what we've dealt with in the past.” Meridian police chief Benny Dubose explained.
City officials say they are already working on solutions to combat crime in Meridian.
“Some of the ways we are addressing some of the burglaries that have happened; particularly in cars downtown; the police are identifying where those take place most often and they are placing cameras there to deter those kinds of activities from happening,” Lindemann said.
“City officials and the city council is concerned and we're trying to figure out what to do about it. We do have some police trainees at the academy that will be coming back shortly, they've been over there several months. So, that will put a few more folks out on the street. We know the holiday period, the Christmas period there is going to be a lot of activity in Meridian. So, if we can get those guys and gals back from the academy, back on the street; that should help.” Thomas said.
Even with new programs and ideas to fight crime; city officials look at what they believe are real issues contributing to crime.
“The rate of poverty we see in this city in particular areas, and as most will tell you that's related to a host of issues," Lindemann said.
“Value education that we once had in the public education system where children were brought up with a value system that was taught to them. Of course, the federal courts tell you that you're not supposed to be teaching values. I know Dr. Carter is working hard to put back into the school system; she's working with the justice department to get some things back that we can teach in the schools.” Thomas explained.