Number of murders, auto thefts, drugs, robberies jump in ’07|[01/12/08]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 12, 2008

Final crime statistics have confirmed 2007 was a violent year in Vicksburg.

Crime in five of the eight most serious categories for which the Vicksburg Police Department keeps numbers showed an increase. In the county, five of nine categories showed a decrease.

Seven murders were recorded in the city in 2007, a sharp jump up from 2006 and a number that nearly doubles the average of the five years before 2007. The figure does not include an October shooting death that was ruled accidental, but a suspect was arrested and charged with manslaughter, or two vehicular homicides in which aggravated DUI was charged and the outcome potentially could carry penalties beyond those for a conviction of manslaughter.

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“It was definitely one of the more violent years I can remember,” said Vicksburg Police Lt. Bobby Stewart, who has worked for the department for 19 years. “It’s something we do not want to deal with in 2008.”

However, Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett said, while the number of homicides was higher and the public may point a finger at law enforcement, he believes the increase has nothing to do with his department’s performance.

“Nearly all of these murders were between people that knew one another, who were arguing, and the incident occurred at one of the person’s homes or private property,” Moffett said. “How do we prevent something like that?”

“The best we can do in these situations, where the parties involved know one another and the crime is premeditated, is arrest the people responsible,” Moffett said. “And we have made arrests in all but one murder case this year.”

The only homicide described by Moffett as “random” was that of James Buie, 52, a longtime taxi and towing company operator who was shot June 27 at the Kar-Kleen Car Wash, 2900 1/2 Clay St. He died about three weeks later at University Medical Center in Jackson.

Buie’s killing is the only one in which no arrest has been made.

Robbery, drug offenses and auto thefts also were significantly higher in 2007 than in 2006. The number of rapes reported in 2007 also showed a 12-percent increase from 2006. However, the 18 recorded last year showed a decrease from 2002 to 2006, in which an average of 26 was reported.

Crime categories that showed a significant decline from 2006 were aggravated assault, forgery and driving under the influence.

Overall, the 2007 crime numbers from the Warren County Sheriff’s Department were mostly down or remained the same compared with 2006. The number of murders in the county fell from three to zero. The county’s only homicide of the year was reported Dec. 30, but, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said, it has not been ruled a murder because it’s still under investigation and would likely be deemed justifiable.

One statistic that showed an increase in the county, and has continued to do so drastically for the past five years, was auto theft. Records indicated 49 vehicles were reported stolen in 2007, compared with 11 in 2002.

However, Pace said, a statute passed in July 2006, is responsible for some of that jump in numbers. The new law states that any vehicle reported missing is classified as an auto theft, even instances of joy riding. Before the statute, prosecution had to prove the suspect’s motive in taking the vehicle was to “permanently deprive the owner use of the vehicle.”

“Now that’s not to say the actual number of auto thefts isn’t higher than usual,” Pace said. “We may have had more this year than we’re used to. It’s hard to tell. But the dramatic increase in auto thefts implied by the crime stats is a little misleading because of that statute.”

Pace said, all in all, he was satisfied with 2007.

“But, then again, I’m a hesitant to say that,” Pace continued. “Because whether we have one burglary, or 118 like we had this year, each of those families are devastated. It is my goal as a peace officer and our goal as a law-enforcement agency to keep all of these crime statistics as low as possible.”