Public forum focuses on gun violence in Vicksburg

Published 7:01 pm Friday, March 23, 2018

A mandatory fine and jail time for people who illegally discharge firearms inside the city limits, and the size of the police department topped the list of items at a Thursday public meeting on gun violence in the city.

More than 40 people attended the meeting, called by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen in the wake of two incidents at nightclubs where people were shot and wounded, and in response to complaints of gunfire in the city. About four hours after the meeting, a man was shot and wounded in the leg. Police are looking for a man in connection with the shooting.

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Mayor George Flaggs Jr. announced the change in the law at the start of the meeting. Under the amendment, which was approved Friday by the board, people arrested for illegally discharging a firearm in the city will pay a $500 fine and spend 30 days in jail.

“I think it’s absolutely imperative,” Flaggs said of the change. “We believe in zero tolerance and we believe in law and order. Basically what we’re doing is taking the discretion away from a judge to do anything lenient than what’s in the law. It will be mandatory.”

If the new law doesn’t discourage people, he said, the board will raise the punishment to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

“We’re determined to make the city safe,” he said. “Guns will be confiscated. Every gun we confiscate, that’s one that won’t be on the street.”

Flaggs said the law was not intended to punish gun owners, and city attorney Nancy Thomas said the law would not affect people participating in approved events in the city involving weapons or anyone using a gun in self-defense or defending others.

Flaggs said the problem with people discharging firearms “has become outrageous, to say the least, of people firing firearms in the city, and I just thought the time had come for us to address this fact. We get a lot of phone calls, where people firing guns for no reason. We’ve had two homicides this year and a number of other issues as well.”

Flaggs added people needed to play a part in ending the gunplay, saying many of the guns used were stolen from unlocked cars.

“People need to keep their guns out of their cars. Most of these guns are coming from vehicles that are open and on the seat.”

Some people said the gunfire problem in their neighborhoods had reached a point where people were scared in their homes.

“My neighbors are elderly, and they’re scared to come in at night, they call me and ask me to look for them and make sure they get in safely,” said Emily Lee, a Sky Farm area resident. “There are multiple shootings in the early morning and in the afternoon and night. A lot of patrol in Sky Farm, but the problem is occurring on the Poplar Street and Mauldin Street areas.”

Another resident said her grandchildren were afraid to stay with her at night.

Several residents raised questions about the police department being understaffed.

Jim Sweet, a retired Vicksburg police officer said he was concerned about the problem.

“When I was in the department, we had 49 officers,” he said, adding he had heard the department’s manpower was almost at that point. Police Chief Milton Moore said the department presently has 56 officers. He said he may have to go from four shifts to three to make up for the reduction in force. The department would be fully staffed with 81 officers.

Flaggs said one problem was a lack of interest in the city for people joining the police department. He said the board has increased officer pay as a recruiting tool.

Businessman David Day said the city could increase its police force, “if you pay officers a decent wage, increase it $5 to $10 an hour. The reality is we could be fully staffed if you would open up your wallets.”

Flaggs, however, said he was not going to increase pay that high, citing budget constraints. He said the city pays its officers more than Clinton or Natchez.

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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