In the coming weeks, Police Chief Fred Shelton hopes to start publicizing a weekly crime blotter breaking down crime in Columbus.
The data will be presented in a map that Columbus Police Department officials will post to the department’s Facebook and Twitter accounts every Monday, Shelton said. By implementing the crime blotter, he said, CPD can give citizens and the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security an idea of what crimes are happening, where and how often.
“We’re going to develop a log to try to determine the frequency of when it is happening, what time of day is it happening, what time of night is it happening, is Friday different from Tuesday? … We want to try to do a more scientific approach to it,” Shelton said.
In addition to publicizing the information — all but exact addresses, Shelton said — CPD will compile that, and other crime data the department’s collected, and send it to the MOHS.
That’s part of a three-pronged approach in local law enforcement agencies’ strategy it developed with MOHS to combat crime in Columbus.
Multiple shootings have been reported in the last few weeks, including one on Seventh Street South on Feb. 27 that injured four people. At a city council meeting earlier this month, Southside residents told councilmen they had been shaken by a drive-by shooting in their area on Feb. 19, and said they were shocked they hadn’t seen it addressed in local media and that they felt CPD wasn’t taking the investigation into the shooting seriously.
CPD is also investigating a murder at the Waffle House on Highway 45 last week, though Lowndes County Coroner Greg Merchant indicated the victim had been stabbed, not shot.
Violent crime has increased nationwide, with some major cities seeing a 30-percent uptick in homicides in 2020 from 2019, according to national media outlets. Shelton said Columbus is no exception to the trend, and that he thinks COVID-19’s twin effects of forced isolation and economic hardship have exacerbated criminal activity.
Other efforts with Homeland Security
Shelton, Lowndes County Sheriff Eddie Hawkins and District 5 county supervisor Leroy Brooks met with MOHS Interim Executive Director Lora Hunter and Operations Director Jim Brinson at CPD headquarters earlier this month to talk about how state agencies could aid CPD and Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office. Shelton said they came out of the meeting with three goals.
The first, he said, is to form multi-jurisdictional task forces that can meet as-needed to tackle specific issues or crime hot spots. State officers from agencies under MOHS’s umbrella would team up with local investigators or members of the Columbus-Lowndes County Joint Drug Task Force for eight- or 12-hour operations at a time.
“For instance, we’re having a lot of gun violence, right?” Shelton said. “The agency that handles that is ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). So they can come in and help us provide some equipment … that can collect DNA evidence, and it can collect fingerprints off shell casings. They have a mobile unit that they can bring (so) we
can process those things on scene instead of having to send it out to the lab and wait an extended period of time (for results).”
That technical assistance also factors into the second topic discussed at the meeting — grants and other opportunities for CPD to purchase technical equipment.
“The grants are competitive, and whether we could secure a grant or not would be based on us filling out an application, and we’re competing with departments all over the state,” Shelton said. “However, … as far as technical surveillance equipment, they can loan us some … if we couldn’t purchase it.”
The final piece of the discussion focused on training MOHS and its umbrella agencies can provide.
“Training for the officers would look like de-escalation training, crisis response,” he said. “Then for the community, we would come back and teach them classes like how to prepare for disasters, active shooter in the church, active shooter in the workplace.”
Brooks, who helped arrange the meeting and who chairs the community crime prevention task force Mayor Robert Smith set up earlier this year, said he thought the talk with MOHS officials was a “super meeting.”
“The representatives from Homeland Security laid out those things that they have the propensity to do, and I think it’s in line with the needs of the city of Columbus, and they are more than willing to work with the city and the sheriff’s department,” Brooks said.
Brooks indicated he also has high hopes for CPD’s plans to compile and present the crime data.
Shelton said he hopes to have the blotter up and running by about the April 20 city council meeting.
“I’m going to gather this data and take it to Homeland Security, say, ‘OK, this is where we’re having the problem,’” he said. “‘This is where we need to concentrate our efforts, and this is the type of assistance or this is the type of enforcement we need to do in this particular community.’”