Thursday morning, Columbus officials scheduled a press conference to discuss the recent crime and shooting incidents in the city. Representatives of the Columbus Police Department, the mayor’s office, the Police Oversight Committee and the Citizen Task Force on Crime to discuss the issue and, presumably, what steps are being taken in an effort to address the problem.
Similar public meetings have been held in Starkville, where there has been a rash of high profile fatal shootings, including one on Easter Sunday, one in McKee Park April 20 and two on Pilcher Street on March 3.
Both Columbus and Starkville have implemented new policies. Columbus has plans to share crime information with residents; Starkville is considering a juvenile curfew.
In both cities, residents are on edge and looking for answers.
Obviously, officials are right to focus on this recent increase in violence, just as residents are rightfully disturbed by it.
Even so, we urge citizens to be cautious in their conclusions about what this recent increase in crime says about our police, city officials and neighborhoods. It’s worth noting that what is happening in Columbus and Starkville appears to be happening everywhere.
In fact, violent crime has increased, both throughout Mississippi and the nation.
A report released by the National Commission on COVD-19 and Criminal Justice in January found nationwide homicides increased by 30 percent from 2019 to 2020. This uptick follows many years of a downward trend in homicides; the current homicide rate is still far lower than it was in 1995. Domestic violence was up, as might be suspected, but robberies declined by 9 percent. Property and drug crimes fell significantly.
In light of that data, the current violent crime trend is more accurately described as a continuation of the increases seen in 2020, and it seems to be continuing.
According to a New York Times report, the U.S. homicide rate was up by 18 percent during the first three months of 2021 when compared to the same period of 2020.
Of course, what is true generally is not always true specifically and when violent crimes happen within a short period, the perception changes, which is understandable.
The idea that violent crime is up everywhere doesn’t do much to calm fears here in our community, we realize. Nor should it diminish efforts to understand and address the problems locally.
But understanding that what we’re seeing locally is a continuation of a broader national trend provides important context in that it may help focus the discussion and, perhaps, reduce the urge to scapegoat local law enforcement or city leaders.
We all should take this recent surge in violence seriously and should work toward solutions.
But it’s also important to recognize the scope of the problem.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.