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District officials work together on safety project

TYLERTOWN – Fourteenth Circuit Court District law enforcementofficials and educators are joining forces with the U.S. Attorney’sOffice in an effort to reducing gun violence and ensure safeneighborhoods for citizens.

As part of a “Project Safe Neighborhoods” initiative, city,county and state law enforcement officials, judges and schoolsuperintendents met Monday with U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton andAssistant U.S. Attorney Linda Anderson to discuss the program aimedat gun-related offenses. Approximately 70 people from Lincoln, Pikeand Walthall counties attended the meeting at the Southwest EventsCenter.

Lampton, former District Attorney for the three-county area,said guns and reducing gun violence was the administration’s NumberOne priority before Sept. 11. Combating terrorism took the top spotthat day, but guns still rank high.

“They’re probably our Number Two priority now,” Lamptonsaid.

Lampton said citizens like to enjoy their Second Amendmentrights to own firearms. However, if something isn’t done to reducegun violence, he said people could see those rights continue toerode.

Project Safe Neighborhoods is a comprehensive program involvingpartnerships, strategic planning, training, community outreach andaccountability.

“It’s not just about prosecuting persons – convicted felons -who use guns,” Lampton said.

Lampton said prosecution is a component of the program. It alsoseeks to increase awareness of gun violence enforcement and developa community attitude in which guns will not be tolerated.

“It’s a program where we can actually save lives,” Lamptonsaid.

The 14th District is the first area in the state to beginworking with Lampton’s office on the initiative. In addition tobeing familiar with the area, Lampton said the district has goodsheriffs, chiefs of police and other law enforcement personnel.

“I know this is where the program can get off to a good start,and we have,” Lampton said, adding that he will be working tospread the program throughout the state in the future.

Anderson updated meeting participants on various aspects of theinitiative, including ways that federal gun laws can help localauthorities prosecute crimes. She said federal gun law violationscan bring up to a 10-year sentence, with stiffer penalties forrepeat offenders.

“The gun is always the way to get the bad guys out of yourneighborhood,” Anderson said.

Another aspect of the initiative is gun tracking andtracing.

“We have a tremendous gun-trafficking problem in Mississippithat we need to address,” Anderson said.

Anderson encouraged law enforcement authorities to seek guntraces through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Thatway, she said, authorities can determine where guns used in crimesare coming from and take steps to address that situation.

Anderson briefly discussed Project Sentry.

That initiative seeks to prosecute those who sell guns tojuveniles. Officials hoped to set up that program soon with lawenforcement and educators’ help.

District Attorney Danny Smith is looking forward to working withLampton’s office on the Safe Neighborhoods effort. Officials citedfour gun-related crimes in Walthall County since December asevidence of the need for the initiative.

“It’s not only a district problem, it’s a state problem and anational problem,” Smith said.

Walthall County Sheriff Duane Dillon focused on the partnershipaspect. He praised Monday’s level of participation from areaofficials.

“We want everybody involved,” Dillon said. “We know we have aspirit of cooperation and want everybody to know we’re on the sameteam.”

Brookhaven Police Chief Arlustra “Pap” Henderson said his citydoes not have a big gun violence problem

However, the chief cited incidents, such as repeat domesticviolence-related cases, where gun laws could be beneficial. A priormisdemeanor conviction for domestic violence is on a list ofelements that can make it illegal for a person to possess afirearm.

“I think it will be very helpful,” Henderson said of the safeneighborhoods initiative.

Circuit Judge Keith Starrett said the federal gun laws could behelpful in prosecuting those criminals who stay on the fringe ofcrimes and are not directly related to a particular incident. Thejudge said the appreciated Lampton and Smith working togethertoward the common goal of a safe neighborhoods.

“That’s want we all want: safe communities and safe streets,”Starrett said.

Educators also applauded the program.

James Tillman, assistant superintendent for the BrookhavenSchool District, said the gun laws will be an additional resourcefor law enforcement. School police officers Davey Johnson andMarzelle Brooks were among several Brookhaven officers who attendedthe meeting to learn more about federal gun law prosecution.

“The bottom line is to help communities,” Tillman said. “We wanteveryone to know that the schools are safe and we’re doingeverything we can to ensure the safety of their children.”

Dr. Ben Cox, superintendent of the North Pike School District,said he was glad to see law enforcement and schools workingtogether.

“Anytime schools work with law enforcement, it can’t do anythingbut improve our safety,” Cox said.

Lincoln County Superintendent Perry Miller expressed similarsentiments.

“Anything we can do to combat violence, drugs and that sort ofthing, it’s got to help,” Miller said.