Report: Police have been fair in ticketing

Published 9:41 am Monday, April 10, 2017

The Vicksburg Police Department does not target blacks in the city with traffic tickets, according to the report by a special committee appointed to audit tickets issued by the police and police department crime statistics.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. appointed the four-member committee in January in response to complaints by Warren County NAACP president John Shorter that police were unfairly targeting and writing tickets to harass blacks.

In a Jan. 9 interview, Shorter said citizens felt they were being targeted, adding blacks were getting targeted with the citations and road blocks at the way into their neighborhood or at the outskirts of black neighborhoods.

Based on the statistics it reviewed, the committee said, that is not the case.

“The committee did not find any discrimination in the officers’ issuance of tickets, even though there were a proportionately higher number of blacks receiving tickets,” the report indicated.

The difference, according to the report, is explained by the racial composition of the city’s population, which according to Census data from the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District showed the makeup of the city’s population of 23,908 people was 16,009 black and 7,656 white.

“What it (the report) does, in my opinion, has shown this administration has been very cautious of everything that we implement, and we do, and we try to be fair about it. I’m glad were able to put it (Shorter’s complaint) to rest,” Flaggs said.

He called the report “thorough and accurate and independent.” He said he is sending a copy of the report to Shorter.

City human resources director Walterine Langford, who chaired the committee, said it examined statistics on the police department’s traffic citations, which showed police issued 9,702 tickets in 2015, and 13,874 in 2016. Out of the 9,702 tickets written in 2015, 6,791 were written to blacks and 2,891 were written to Whites. In 2016, 9,432 were written to blacks, and 4,214 to whites.

Of the top 10 officers writing tickets, according to the committee report, eight were black officers and two were white. One white officer, according to the report, has left the police department.

“So eight were black officers in the city of Vicksburg, (a city of) 24,500 people and about a 62 percent black city,” Flaggs said, adding he could not understand how someone could claim blacks were being targeted when the majority of officers writing tickets were black.

To get a better understanding the statistics, Langford said, committee members talked with police officer Lt. Leonce Young to get a better understanding of the data they received. Young told the committee police occasionally received complaints from residents about traffic problems in their neighborhoods.

He said the police department would monitor the area and take action if they saw problems, usually setting up road blocks in problem areas to eliminate the problem.

Of the 40 roadblocks police used during 2016, according to the committee, 32 were in mixed race neighborhoods, five in predominantly white neighborhoods, and three in predominantly black neighborhoods.

“So the myths about the road blocks in predominantly black neighborhoods is no longer true,” Flaggs said.

“In terms of traffic enforcement, in terms of troubled areas that might deal with drugs, any increase in crime, the way we respond to it is if we get complaints from the citizens that there is an increase in speeding, loud music or whatever, we target those areas,” Police Chief Walter Armstrong said.

“We don’t look at what race of people live those areas, we approach it from a safety perspective, and most of what we do should be based on knowledge of what’s going on in those particular areas.”

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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