Crime is a community problem and citizen involvement is a powerful preventative measure, the Columbus City Council and command staff of the Columbus Police Department agreed.
The council and Mayor Robert Smith met with CPD Chief Joseph St. John and members of his command staff Monday in a special council meeting to address crime in the city.
“This is not a meeting to degrade you and your command staff or to bash you and your command staff,” Smith said, beginning the meeting during which members of the council expressed appreciation for and thanked the CPD.
“In Mississippi, there”s not a more accessible police department,” St. John said, agreeing the department still can do more to get officers out on foot patrols in communities, especially after the “terrible amount of crime” seen over the past weekend.
“We”ll start using (police) substations more on weekends and have more foot patrols,” he promised, also noting five officers recently were appointed to a Drug Interdiction Crime Enforcement (DICE) team, a team working exclusively on weekends to address concerns with bars and nightclubs throughout the city.
The department maintains functioning substations in Oak Manor, Sims Scott Park, East Columbus, at the offices of The CPI Group on Main Street and in Leigh Mall.
“The police department can”t be at all crimes,” Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem noted. “What do we have to do to take back our streets?”
“Crime is going to be cycled,” St. John said. “Crime is going to be a problem; we”re going to have to deal with it.”
St. John also was asked about the efficacy of offering a gun amnesty program, during which people can sell their guns to the CPD and the guns subsequently are destroyed.
“It will not get the guns I want off of the streets, but it will give good people a chance to get the guns out of their houses,” St. John said and his command staff agreed the program would do little to rid the streets of dangerous weapons used in crimes. Generally, only “junk” guns which do not work are turned in during the program, St. John explained, noting he offered such a program multiple times at his previous department in Newport News, Va.
“They”re stealing their guns and they”re trading them for drugs,” he added.
“They don”t hurt and they don”t help either,” Assistant CPD Chief Joe Johnson said of gun amnesty programs, which he acknowledged the CPD has not offered during his 36 years with the department.
“The problem we”ve got is a crime problem, not a police problem,” Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box said.
“I”m in the trenches and I witness this every day,” Karriem said. “We all know perception is reality. What are the plans to change the perception crime is high?”
“We all know crime is prevalent,” Smith said.
“We keep a good grip here,” St. John said. “Crime runs in cycles. We”re on top of what”s happening now and we”re pushing through.”
“What we”ve got to remember is crime travels,” Karriem said, urging crime be addressed as a community problem and not only as an issue affecting specific areas of the city.
“We need to see crime as a community problem,” St. John agreed, also noting Box”s observation “it all goes back to drugs” is correct.
“It”s drugs and the fact we have people who want to perpetuate violence,” St. John added.
“You can”t put it all to drugs,” Karriem objected. “Unemployment is high and that plays into it, as well.”
Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin suggested doing more to “involve” and train communities in forming and conducting neighborhood watch programs.
And St. John agreed for the CPD soon to begin holding community meetings in each of the city”s wards to encourage and help communities begin the programs.
“There must be more interaction from the community,” Lt. Selvain McQueen said, noting officers met with “untold” amounts of resistance recently while questioning neighbors about an attempted rape in the Northaven Woods subdivision.
“If you don”t want these things occurring in your neighborhood, you”ve got to tell the police (about what you know and have witnessed),” he added.
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