City’s teen crime ‘biggest surprise’ to chief of police

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 25, 2010

Youth crime and its effects on statistics in Vicksburg have been the biggest challenge — and surprise — to Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong in his first seven months as top cop.

“The biggest surprise is teenagers involved in crime,” Armstrong said, addressing the Vicksburg Lions Club. “If it wasn’t for our young people and the crime they’re involved in, we’d have very little crime.”

Armstrong, 48, was appointed police chief in July, one of several split votes on top positions in city government following the election of Mayor Paul Winfield. Though juvenile crime had trended upward for years before the change in the department, the numbers have grabbed Armstrong’s attention and haven’t let go.

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“The age group is ranging from about 14,” Armstrong said. “We dip a little bit into the 20s, maybe about 25 years of age. It’s not 35, 40, 50-year-olds. It’s our young people. Once we get a handle on that, our crime problem in Vicksburg would go down tremendously.”

Figures released in January by the department showed a 40 percent increase in 2009 over 2008 in felony and misdemeanor arrests of people younger than 18. The raw figures were 663, up from 395 in 2008 and 304 in 2007. Some were arrested multiple times and some face multiple counts. Arrests of juveniles outside the city by the Warren County Sheriff’s Department were nearly level over the same period, falling to 103 in 2008 from 119 in 2007, then rising only slightly to 106 in 2009.

Finding activities for youths after school hours — a recurring theme when talk turns to youth crime — might signal a return to after-school basketball programs at local school gyms, said Patrolman Bobby Jones, appearing with Armstrong.

In addition to programs, Armstrong believes the key to stemming crime of all types — particularly auto burglaries, of which about 600 have been reported in the city and county in the past year — is community involvement.

“Remove your valuables and lock your vehicle,” Armstrong said. “Sometimes, weapons are left in vehicles. Those same weapons wind up on our streets. About all we can do is be mindful of what’s going on in our neighborhoods.”

The department has 78 sworn officers, up from about 63 upon Armstrong’s appointment in July. The retired Mississippi Highway Patrol officer and administrator counted the increase as an accomplishment during his speech, as well as arrests in previously unsolved, high-profile cases.

“I inherited a department that had a very good foundation,” Armstrong said, referring to former chief Tommy Moffett by name as having “really done great things at the police department in terms of bringing the department to where it is today.”

Five officers were promoted Feb. 11, and federal stimulus money is expected to fund salaries for four officers over three years. Six patrolmen were hired about three months ago and went to the Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Academy in January.

Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at