In their continuing mission of being transparent to the public and keeping established communication with the community, members of Hattiesburg Police Department – along with Mayor Toby Barker – recently gave an update on crime in the Hub City during the third quarter of the year.
Internally, the department has tracked 10 Part 1 felony crime categories, which helped officials gauge crime activity in order to deploy resources as needed to areas of concern. Those categories include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, commercial burglary, residential burglary, grand larceny, auto burglary, auto theft and arson.
Through Sept. 30 of this year, the department’s statistics show a 7 percent overall decrease in those crimes, compared to the same period last year. So far, officials have seen seven homicides, 13 rapes, 20 robberies, 61 aggravated assaults, 135 commercial burglaries, 82 residential burglaries, 90 grand larcenies, 353 auto burglaries, 82 auto thefts and three arsons.
“As we analyze individual crimes, we know we’ve had a decrease in homicides, residential burglary, grand larceny, auto burglary and auto thefts,” Maj. Hardy Sims said during the briefing, which was held Oct. 5 at HPD headquarters. “But we also understand we’ve had an increase in aggravated assault and commercial burglaries.
“The breakdown of our numbers shows we’ve had two less homicides, but at the same time, we’ve had 31 more aggravated assaults compared to the same period last year.
“Here’s some reasons why: from the very onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we expected domestic violence and similar assaults to increase. Because of the ongoing pandemic, most peoples’ stress and anxiety levels increased. Combine that with loss of jobs, and the stay-at-home mandates, all these conditions contributed to an increase in certain crimes.”
However, officials do believe the number of those crimes will once again go down when the pandemic subsides. Overall, the department is seeing the lowest number of Part 1 crimes in the past five years, which Sims contributed to the citizens who are involved in what happens in their respective neighborhoods.
“Those are citizens who call and report suspicious activity, and are willing to give additional information when needed,” he said. “They are involved stakeholders who do what it takes to make their neighborhoods safe. So we thank them for partnering with us in making the city a safer place to live.”
In the third quarter of the year, 291 auto burglaries were reported to the department, of which 275 were incidents in which vehicles were left unlocked. Seventy-five weapons were stolen from those unlocked vehicles.
“These weapons could potentially be used in a crime,” Assistant Chief Peggy Sealy said. “That is one reason we rolled out our campaign, Park Smart, where we’re encouraging people to remove their valuables – especially guns – and lock their vehicles. Help us and help your community by locking your vehicles.”
So far this year, there have been two homicides that have gone unsolved. One occurred on Sept. 29, when William Walker was murdered on Franklin Street.
The other occurred June 29, when Jermaine Hunter was shot and killed on his front yard on McCall Street.
Anyone with information on the murders is asked to call HPD at (601) 544-7900 or Metro Crime Stoppers at (601) 582-7867.
“We continue to try to find all these criminals, but we cannot do it without the community’s help and support,” Capt. Branden McLemore said. “Any information (is valuable), if you come forward and help us gain the evidence to prosecute these individuals.
“Those are some things that people don’t tend to understand – when we go after the individuals responsible for these crimes, we have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these individuals committed these crimes. So sometimes we might not charge them with homicide, or we might not charge them with second-degree murder, but we will go after them with other crimes.”
Barker stressed that while HPD is the very best of departments – and the progress made this year is because of the hard work of the officers – the department does need the public’s help to reduce crime in the city.
“Hattiesburg is safer when the community sees itself as an equal partner and an equal stakeholder,” he said. “Whether it’s Mr. Walker’s death last week, or Neal Paige’s death last year, somebody knows something.
“Five families in Hattiesburg are still grieving and looking for justice, so there’s no reason not to share information; this is your community. Call; it’s anonymous.”