The Mississippi capitol city’s crime rates have soared during 2020. Just this week, Jackson saw their 105th homicide since the beginning of the year. At the center of the conversation, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst seem to be at odds.
In recent months, Hurst offered a possible solution in Operation Legend, which is a Trump Administration program that was designed to keep crime rates from rising. If implemented it could allow dozens of federal law enforcement agents to assist the Jackson Police Department.
The JPD is only operating at 41 percent capacity, with 21 out of the 50 detectives for which they are budgeted.
Operation Legend was launched in July 2020 and since then there have been more than 5,000 arrests, including 247 for homicide with over 2,000 firearms seized, 22 kilos of heroin, more than 15 kilos of fentanyl, 130 kilos of methamphetamine, 28 kilos of cocaine and more than $7.3 million in drug proceeds taken in.
The program is named in honor of four-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed while sleeping on the morning of June 29 in Kansas City.
According to WAPT, Lumumba said that Operation Legend is a politically motivated program.
Lumumba said his decision to put the offer from Hurst on hold came because he was left out of the initial conversation.
“To take this on in a political way and talk to everybody but the mayor, everybody but the mayor. And when I call him, I have trouble getting him,” said Lumumba. “We welcome assistance to the City that helps to advance our programmatic priorities. I am not supportive of anything that seeks to occupy our communities as a military force. My understanding from other communities that have had experience with Operation Legend, is that it has operated very much in that way. Jackson is facing rising poverty, drug use and mental health crises that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, but also by drastic cuts in federal and state resources to address these issues. We would certainly welcome federal support to strengthen these much needed services in our communities.”
Hurst said that he has tried to contact the mayor on several occasions and that the assertion his offer is politically motivated is “absolutely ridiculous.”
Hurst first reached out to AG Barr in August 2020 to appeal for the City of Jackson to have the program launched. At the time, Jackson’s murder rate was higher than nearly all of the other cities where the program was deployed. The only one with a higher rate per capita was St. Louis, Missouri.
The program has been implemented in Chicago, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Memphis and Indianapolis.
In September, Hurst said he began reaching out to city council members to determine whether or not they would be in support of receiving the federal assistance. As of now, Hurst says the support is unanimous.
“It’s incredibly asinine not to accept it because the JPD is literally half staffed of where they should be in order to keep crime rates down and that is from the city’s own study they did 20 years ago,” said Hurst.
It seems even the city’s councilmen would like to see federal help come.
Jackson City Councilmen Kenneth Stokes and Ashby Foot filed two resolutions on October 13, declaring a crisis of violent crime and a call for action. Within the city, it was reported by the Jackson Police Department that there has been a 48 percent increase in violent crimes and a 217 percent increase in carjacking, just to name a few.
“My only request is that we seek assistance from the federal government whose got more money than we ever have, and they’ve got more manpower, too. We need to seek assistance and come up with a way to address this, otherwise we’re derelict of our duties,” said Foote.
The resolution called for the help and support of federal law enforcement personnel to assist the Hinds County Sheriff Department to fight against crime in the city. This is one of two resolutions that have been filed since.
In an attempt to work together, Hurst participated in the meeting hosted by Stokes on Sunday to discuss ways to decrease crime rates.
“Right now, we’re on pace to hit about 128 murders. To put that into context, the most the city has ever had is 92, so we are going to exceed that by 40%,” said Hurst.
He called the current situation an “epidemic of murders” and added that it is important that the community gets involved to try and decrease these numbers. Hurst said Jackson’s murder per capita rate this year is three times greater than Chicago.
Hurst stands firm that there would be a dramatic improvement in the city if Operation Legend was implemented. He said there has been an overall drop in other cities where Operation Legend was involved.
Ultimately, the decision will not be made by Mayor Lumumba. In the end, it is up to Attorney General Bill Barr as to whether or not to bring additional agents to the city.
“I will tell you; it is always better to have support of the locals. We have unanimous support from the city council now,” said Hurst.
He said it is unclear to him why Lumumba might be against the federal aid, but this is not the first time they have been on opposite sides.
“It’s disheartening that he has been against my office’s Project EJECT ever since we launched it. I assume he [Lumumba] has a different outlook on how you fight violent crime,” said Hurst.
Project EJECT is an initiative by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of Mississippi. EJECT stands for Empower Justice Expel Crime Together. It is a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach to fighting and reducing violent crime through prosecution, prevention, re-entry and awareness.
When it comes to the city’s own projects to fight crime, Lumumba said in a Monday morning press conference they continue to use Operation Safe In which is a collaboration between JPD, the fire department and the planning department to target increased crime at local hotels and motels. He was not clear on the reason behind the initiation of the project but said they have busted crimes like solicitation, prostitution and drug sales.
Lumumba said for Jackson he’s not only looking at expanding the police force, but says the increased crime is part of a larger problem. He said the COVID-19 has greatly impacted the rising numbers.