VPD aims to reduce crime

Published 9:53 am Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Vicksburg Police Department is taking aim at reducing property crimes in the city.

In a meeting this week with Mayor George Flaggs Jr., Chief Walter Armstrong and assistant chiefs Bobby Stewart and Johnnie Edwards laid out a 3-year plan to reduce crime overall. The plan places an emphasis on community involvement and increased visibility of police in the community.

Flaggs said the purpose of the meeting was to address crime statistics and Vicksburg’s rank as fourth in a crime index of the state of Mississippi.

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“The reporting from various law enforcement agencies across the state is done on a volunteer basis,” Armstrong said. “Agencies report if they want to report and what they want to report.”

The Vicksburg Police Department reports crime to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program as they occur. The program is volunteer and doesn’t factor any variables that impact crime statistics. The FBI cautions against using UCR figures to rank communities.

“Many entities—news media, tourism agencies, and other groups with an interest in crime in our nation—use figures from the Uniform Crime Reporting Program to compile rankings of cities and counties.

“These rankings, however, are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction.  Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents,” reads a statement on the FBI’s UCR website.

It goes on to read “For example, one city may report more crime than a comparable one, not because there is more crime, but rather because its law enforcement agency through proactive efforts identifies more offenses.”

Edwards pointed out one particular problem the VPD has with reporting crimes to the UCR Program as they happen is there isn’t the ability to revise those numbers once they have been reported, particularly sexual based crimes.

“Although they are sexual based crimes, half of those crimes are not actually true after an investigation,” Edwards said. “At the initial onset it is reported as a sexual based crime and after an investigation is concluded we can’t go back and change that number.”

The VPD’s plan calls for an increase in the number of Neighborhood Watch Programs and the specialized training of three officers in crime prevention. These crime prevention officers would then work closely with Neighborhood Watch groups and other organizations as a bridge between the community and the police department. They would take the lead in preparing and equipping residents with information to safeguard their communities.

“We believe the 3-year plan we are putting into place will make a huge difference in terms of getting the community involved by way of the Neighborhood Watch Program and crime prevention,” Armstrong said.

Neighborhood Watch Programs are credited with reducing crime in those areas in which the program is active.

“Crime prevention is no more than community policing, and we have already seen an increase in the number of Neighborhood Watch Programs,” Armstrong said. “We have more than 20 programs in place now and we look to increase that number.”

Another way the VPD is looking to reduce crime is through the use of body cameras. The 3-year plan calls for body cameras for every officer.

Edwards said just knowing the cameras are in use would ensure the professional behavior of the officer and provide a clear picture of any situation.

The VPD has also identified areas with increased criminal activity and stepped up patrols in those areas to curb that activity.

“We’ve identified areas with increased activity and with increased patrols and proactive enforcement of city ordinances and traffic laws we’ve seen a decrease in property and violent crime in those areas,” Stewart said. “Putting the handful of troublemakers we have in the city in jail and keeping them in jail, by working with the D.A. and judges on sentencing and bonds we will continue to see a reduction in crime.  But, it takes a partnership between the police, judicial system as well as the community.”

Flaggs said the only way to truly gauge crime reduction is to compare Vicksburg’s numbers from year to year.