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No easy answers when question is crime prevention

Although the subject of the questions varied, an underlyingsense of frustration filled the air Tuesday evening as citizenscame to hear about Neighborhood Watch and quiz their lawenforcement leaders about crime-related goings-on in thecommunity.

How to soothe that frustration and calm fears is a complex questionwith no easily definable answers.

The focus of the meeting, Neighborhood Watch, is a useful tool inthe fight against crime. Law enforcement, however, cannot be reliedupon to be the impetus behind the program.

Citizens must grasp the reins and take up the task of contactingtheir neighbors and organizing watch programs for their designatedareas. Then, law enforcement officials can provide the needed boostto push newly formed programs to be successful, with NeighborhoodWatch signs and other tools to help citizens be more alert tosuspicious activity.

In the fight against crime, law enforcement staffing is a majorconsideration.

Hiring more officers or deputies is the simple answer. Finding,training, paying and keeping them is the challenging part.

While city fathers have approved his adding five new officers,Police Chief Pap Henderson said he has yet to find acceptablecandidates for those positions. He is searching, though.

However, once found, hired and trained – at a cost of $3,000 to thecity – Henderson faces the risk of those new officers bolting toother police departments that offer higher pay. To combat that, thechief suggested the possibility of a contract for the new officersto provide a designated number of years of service to Brookhavenbefore being able to leave.

If possible, the chief’s idea is certainly one that is worthy ofstudy. After all, many teachers, doctors and those in some otherprofessions agree to serve in certain areas for designated periodsin exchange for education funding assistance.

And not that they are not worth it, paying officers more putsgoverning officials in the difficult position of cutting servicesor raising taxes to cover that additional expense. Doing eithercould elicit cries and complaints from constituents.

Similarly, government leaders face hard choices when it comes tolocking up criminals. “Lock ’em and throw away the key,” soundsgreat as an election campaign slogan, but the devil can be found inthe budget details.

Due to budget concerns, Mississippi lawmakers are already pullingback from “truth in sentencing” laws that called for criminals toserve 85 percent of their sentences. Now criminals are being turnedback out on the street after serving only a fraction of theirtime.

With that increasing possibility on the back end, and overlylenient bond amounts that allow criminal suspects to remain freeuntil their judgment day in court on the front end, law enforcementofficers are left to wonder how much impact their dedicated effortsare having in the crime prevention struggle. Surely, arresting thesame criminals over and over must be demoralizing.

Frustration is not an emotion anyone handles well, but it is oneeveryone is facing when it comes to the topic of crime.

Short of a sea change in thinking that will make every personrespect each other’s lives and property, there is no proverbialmagic wand to wave away the criminal ills of society. Butlaw-abiding citizens and law enforcement working hand in hand tokeep an eye on criminals may be the next best thing.