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Would more officers reduce number of murders?

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Would a larger police force curb some of the violence that plagued Brookhaven in 2015?

Police Chief Bobby Bell thinks so. And former chief Pap Henderson agrees. Henderson said that having more police officers on the streets would help with the crime and murder rates in Brookhaven.

“I certainly think so,” Henderson said. “There is no doubt about that. It would definitely help the department to cover more areas.”

Statistics, however, suggest that there are factors other than the size of the police force that impact murder rates.

Brookhaven’s police officer to population ratio falls in the middle when compared to Natchez, McComb and Brandon. Brookhaven has about two police officers per 1,000 residents. Natchez has about 2.7 officers per 1,000 residents. McComb employs 2.4 officers per 1,000 residents, and Brandon employs about 1.7 per 1,000 residents.

Brookhaven’s murder rate for 2015 was the highest of those cities. In 2015, 10 homicides occurred in Brookhaven, with a population of approximately 12,470.

Natchez has a population of approximately 15,269 and reported three murders in 2015.

McComb Police Detective Shannon Sullivan said McComb reported one murder in 2015. The city’s population is 12,703.

Brandon, a larger city with a population of approximately 23,156, reported no murders for 2015.

Bell has requested pay raises for his officers in an effort to reduce turnover and increase the size of the force.

“Lincoln County starts out with $29,000. McCombs starts out with $29,440. Brandon starts at $28,999, and Pearl starts $29,500,” Bell said. “I want to see if we can inspire some of the young men in our area — that was one of my campaign promises — to become police officers. Basically, I think the price has something to do with it.”

The starting pay for non-certified police officers at the Brookhaven Police Department is $27,534.12. Bell requested it be raised to $30,000 for non-certified officers — an officer that has not attended the police academy — and $31,000 for certified officers.

Currently, the police department employs 26 certified full-time police officers and one part-time officer but has enough openings to employ 30 full-time officers.

Natchez Police Captain Tom McGehee said the Natchez Police Department has a capacity to hire 44 police officers but right now only employs 42 officers. The NPD starts non-certified officers at $25,326 and certified officers at $26,376.

McComb has the capacity to employ 35 officers but currently only has 31 officers, Sullivan said.

The Brandon Police Department employs 39 full-time officers at full capacity. The starting salary for a certified officer in Brandon is $29,424.58, Brandon Police Chief William Thompson said. The department does not employ non-certified officers.

“I don’t know what a non-certified officer is,” Thompson said. “I don’t know who would hire someone like that.”

Some have disagreed with the suggestion that an increase in the murder rate correlates with the number of officers on the force.

“I worked for the police station,” Alderman Randy Belcher said. “I’ve got 15 years in law enforcement. I don’t think the crime rate has nothing to do with the officers we have or the lower pay. They’re a little short, but not enough for how the crime rate is up here.”