By all accounts, crime is the No. 1 issue in Jackson’s city elections and likely will figure predominantly in voters’ minds as they go to the polls in the primaries on May 3.
In the race for Jackson mayor, incumbent Harvey Johnson Jr. faces a tough-talking former head of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics with former CEO of WLBT-Channel 3 Frank Melton, whose clarion call has been crime-fighting.
Voters will have to determine if Melton is all talk or truly offers a well-planned, orderly and effective approach, or if Johnson is on the right course or is too slow or ineffective in responding to citizen concerns.
In the mayor’s race and in each of the city’s wards, The Clarion-Ledger, the League of Women Voters and WJTV-Channel 12 have sponsored election forums since March 21, offering candidates the opportunity to express viewpoints and hear citizens. Crime woes were paramount among citizen concerns.
The crime issue has been closely examined in recent months. The Clarion-Ledger’s series “Hinds County: Patchwork Justice,” in March looked at the criminal justice system and The Clarion-Ledger’s series “The Changing Face of Jackson” last spring addressed the impact of crime on the city’s situation. Citizens should be well-armed in approaching the ballot box with opinions regarding crime-fighting.
Statistics show serious crime in decline. But the issue goes beyond statistics or the mechanics of police, courts, jail and prosecutors. Crime impacts all aspects of governance and metro issues, including quality of life, neighborhoods, economic development, suburban flight, and the metro area’s future.
What should the next mayor and city council members do about crime?
First, acknowledge it as the No. 1 issue. Solutions should be at the forefront in every mayoral staff meeting and council session. Crime is a problem; perception of crime is also a problem. Perceptions are changed when citizens see action and results. Right now, they are not, despite the statistics.
Continue to build up the police force. Much progress has been made by the Johnson administration in this area, but the city still does not have enough officers for its size. That takes financial commitment by officials and taxpayers.
Exert ongoing pressure on the Hinds County criminal justice system to do a better job. From law enforcement to prosecution to the courts to the jails, the system is falling short. It is overwhelmed, but the system fails also because of lack of communication and issues that could be addressed by better coordination, work and discipline. City officials must confront county performance issues.
Create a community of crime fighters. Community policing is more than a catchword. Organizations, schools, churches and neighborhood groups must take on crime as well. Much has been accomplished in recent years in this area, but much more needs to be done.
Jackson is no different from other cities in its crime issues. The city is not a war zone as critics often seek to portray it. But crime is an underlying part of the other issues facing the city. Crime must be addressed and the perception must be addressed.
In politics, perception is reality. Reality is the May 3 ballot.