Mayor calls for audit of crime reports

Published 9:15 am Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Stung by allegations from Vicksburg NAACP president John Shorter, and information on two websites showing Vicksburg with a high crime rate, Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. Tuesday appointed a four-member committee to examine the way the city’s crime statistics are reported.

Flaggs named human resources director Walterine Langford, city attorney Nancy Thomas, assistant IT director Pam Freeman, and Anna Booth from the city accounting office to review and reconcile the reports and review the way the police department submits its reports.

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Langford and Thomas are lawyers and former municipal judges, Freeman and Booth work with statistics for the city.

“There were some allegations, I would guess, and some misknown numbers and how they’re being reported and how they’re being kept, I just think it’s incumbent upon this board, and certainly the mayor, to look at how crime statistics are being reported by the city to the city so we can at least clarify what has been alleged,” Flaggs said.

“I don’t want to prejudice the committee, but I fail to believe what I’m hearing through public conversation,” he continued. “I’m not surprised. This is the season where you forward all complaints and criticize everything and everybody. To make certain the integrity of the Vicksburg Police Department and this board is intact. I’m appointing this committee.”

Flaggs called the committee fair and just, adding he believes it will clarify any confusion involving reporting of crime in the city.

The appointments come in the wake of claims by Shorter that the police department is targeting blacks in the city with traffic tickets, and news of statistics showing Vicksburg with a high crime statistics on two websites  — “” and “” — that are supposedly used by business and industry officials when they look for potential sites to locate. Both sites use the crime stats to compare and rank Vicksburg with other communities.

Flaggs said printed copies of the reports were provided by Warren County Port Commission president Margaret Gilmer. Both reports indicate the city has a high crime rate and is not safe. Flaggs said printed copies were sent to Police Chief Walter Armstrong.

Armstrong said he received the reports, but he was not told about the committee.

“I just got his report from Mrs. Gilmer Friday, and I was already working on a response to his report, thinking I had a few days to do it, because I wanted to be detailed,” Armstrong said. “I don’t understand why he would send me a report and ask me to look into it, and then the next working day form a committee without my knowledge or input to the committee. That’s mind-boggling in itself.”

Armstrong was also concerned no one in law enforcement was named to the committee.

“You don’t really understand without talking to someone in our line of work to get a clear understanding,” he said.

Armstrong said he is preparing a response to the reports, adding the department was taking its time to be thorough in gathering statistics about crime in the city and other factors that can have an influence on crime.

He said emails were sent to the websites asking how they compiled the statistics and used them, but none responded.

Attempts to contact the website City-data by email were unsuccessful.

Jon Russo with areavibes said in an email the statistics came from the 2015 FBI Uniform Crime Reports. City-data’s statistics go through 2014.The website did not give a source.

According to areavibes, the overall crime rate in Vicksburg is 116 percent higher than the national average; for every 100,000 people there are 16.93 daily crimes that occur in Vicksburg (Vicksburg’s population is about 24,000); Vicksburg is safer then 12 percent of the cities in the U.S.; in the city there is a one in 17 chance of being a crime victim; and the number of total year crimes in Vicksburg has decreased by 14 percent.

The Uniform Crime Reports have a disclaimer warning people about using the statistics to rank cities or regions.

“Data users should not rank locales because there are many factors that cause the nature and type of crime to vary from place to place,” the disclaimer notes. “UCR statistics include only jurisdictional population figures along with reported crime, clearance, or arrest data. Rankings ignore the uniqueness of each locale.

“Some factors are known to affect the volume and type of crime occurring from place to place.”

The disclaimer also lists a series of factors such as population density, culture, education and other causes.

Armstrong said one problem with the website, is that the statistics they are using are more than a year old, adding the city had a reduction in crime in 2016 from 2015. The Uniform Crime Reports statistics for 2016 have not been released, he said.

“We’re preparing an overall response that’s going to address a lot of things, to include some of the things that breed this kind of activity,” Armstrong said. “We’ve got a 34 percent poverty rate, we’ve got a lack of affordable housing, we’ve got zero meaningful jobs created, certainly in the last 3 1/2 years … all those things play into the climate leaning toward this type stuff we’re talking about.

“I don’t want the public to be misled without at least making an attempt to share the information they really need to know in order to assess what’s going on, if anything is going on.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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