Vicksburg, Warren County law enforcement agencies launch Project Safe Neighborhoods in community

Published 9:25 am Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Office of the District Attorney and the Vicksburg Police Department last week announced the formation of a joint task force with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The initiative is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a nationwide initiative that helps combat violent crime and reduce repeat offenders. In Mississippi, cities like Natchez, Meridian and Jackson are among the ranks for Project Safe Neighborhoods. According to District Attorney Ricky Smith, Jr., the partnership will ensure that violent offenders will serve the majority of their prison sentences.

“When House Bill 585 was passed in 2014, that drastically changed everything as far as sentencing goes,” Smith said. “The U.S. Attorney’s office is more serious with sentencing than we can be at the state level, especially with drug-related cases. Our legislature is letting non-violent offenders out with 25 percent of their time served, whereas at the federal level, they will have to serve 85 percent of their sentences.”

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Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said he’s excited to partner with the federal agencies to fight crime in the community.

“I am excited about the partnership between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and District Attorney’s office, in the hopes that this cooperation will reduce some of the violent repeat offenders,” Pace said. “This is something we’re very interested in, and other communities have done this. One advantage that we have, as the sheriff’s office, is we have already had a very robust partnership with state and federal law enforcement. This particular partnership, from the prosecutorial end, can really benefit the community.”

Through the partnership, the district attorney will be able to recommend cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which can yield a heftier sentence for crimes.

Smith said he views the partnership as a supplement to the work local agencies are already doing, not as a substitute.

“I look at that as another tool we can use to get repeat offenders off the street,” Smith said. “That was one of my fears about agreeing to this. … I didn’t want to appear that we were unable to handle our caseload. This is about that handful of cases every year where, we know there’s somebody who absolutely needs to get off the street.

“Every case comes to my office first. Then, we make a determination. If we see cases that would be better served with the U.S. Attorney prosecuting, we send them to that office, because they have a criminal statute that addresses the act that we don’t have, or the penalty they have is greater than the penalty we have here.”

Smith said his office is still the first point of contact ahead of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and there will be no direct referrals to the U.S. Attorney’s Office from local law enforcement.

He also added that the program is not expected to have a significant impact on first-time, non-violent offenders.

“There’s a portion of the population that believes we’re too hard on criminals,” Smith said. “But for first-time, nonviolent offenders, we look at every option. We’re going to do everything we can to get them back on the straight and narrow without assigning prison time.

“But with people who are bringing large amounts of drugs into the community or committing repeat felonies, I don’t think we can be too hard on them.”