Concerns on crime raised by citizens

Published 6:27 pm Wednesday, September 29, 2010

They came to hear about Neighborhood Watch, but a variety ofother crime-related concerns peppered the discussion Tuesday nightduring a meeting at the First United Methodist Church MinistryCenter.

Chief among the concerns was the escape of six inmates from LincolnCounty Jail earlier in the day. Sheriff Steve Rushing started themeeting with an update on the situation.

“We’re actively pursuing them and have got some good leads,”Rushing said.

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The six escapees were captured in New Orleans Wednesday morning.They are being held in the Jefferson Parish Jail pendingextradition.

Still, the sheriff’s comments last night did not prevent Brookhavenresident Johnny Perkins from questioning Rushing about hisrecommendations to supervisors for improving the jail. Perkinsexpressed concerns that Lincoln County could become a “catch andrelease” facility.

Rushing acknowledged some jail issues, pointing out that by hisrecollection the facility was designed by an architect who hadnever before built a jail.

“That’s what I’ve been dealing with for the last three or fouryears,” he said.

In response to the escape, Rushing said his first priority was toget the escapees back in jail. His next priority will be todetermine what can be done to prevent it from happeningagain.

Rushing said he has been in touch with Mississippi Department ofCorrections Commissioner Chris Epps to discuss the situation andthe sheriff believes supervisors will be supportive of efforts toimprove the jail. The sheriff cautioned that no jail isescape-proof and that the escapees used a sheet to climb down froma third-floor window.

“That’s like something you see on TV,” the sheriff said.

Other topics touched on home protection, including alarm systemsand the Castle Doctrine; law enforcement staffing; courts andcriminal culprits.

Brookhaven resident Donna Wilkerson inquired about alarm systemsand the situation when residents take up arms to defend theirproperty during a break-in.

“What happens to the resident when we start shooting?” Wilkersonasked.

Police Chief Pap Henderson said the Castle Doctrine allowsresidents to defend their property during crimes. Also, he saidevidence will show that a suspect had entered a home and they werenot supposed to be there.

“We hope in the process (of defending your home) you call thepolice department,” Henderson said.

Regarding alarm systems, Henderson advised caution. He said policerespond as soon as they receive a call, and it can be five to sixminutes before an alarm company relays a homeowner’s call toauthorities.

Also, the chief dismissed a notion that thieves may be deterred byan alarm sign in the front yard of a home.

“A thief is a thief,” he said.

On the issue of personnel, Rushing said he could always use moremen, but he believed he has sufficient staff at the moment.

Henderson said he has been approved to hire five more officers, buthas not found the right ones yet. He mentioned an inability to addnew officers due to having to replace ones that retire or move onto departments with better pay.

The chief also cited a trend of paying $3,000 plus salary to send anew officer to the training academy only to see him leave a shortwhile later. Henderson mentioned the possibility of a having acontract with the officer for him to stay a certain number of yearsafter being trained at city expense.

“I think that would help more than anything,” the chief said.

Among other issues, Rushing indicated new sentencing guidelinesenacted a few years ago are impacting the earlier release of somenon-violent criminals. He said circuit court judges are reacting byenhancing sentences in an effort to keep criminals in jaillonger.

“The court system is catching up with the sentencing guidelines,”Rushing said.

Henderson also touched on the problem of juvenile criminals. But healso laid fault elsewhere.

“I think we need to start charging the parents myself,” Hendersonsaid.

Henderson said he was avoiding supporting a curfew. He said thecity’s many good children would be impacted because of the problemsbeing caused by a few.

With holding options for juveniles limited, the chief lamented lawenforcement’s inability to be a stronger deterrent to juvenilecrime.

“They’re really putting the handcuffs on us now with juveniles,”the chief said.