Hattiesburg mayor issues statement on recent spike in crime

By MAYOR TOBY BARKER,

Every city and county has a criminal element. Hattiesburg is no different, and periodically, violent crime rises for one reason or another.

However, the activities over the past 10 days have been unusual, and I know that.

What we have heard and learned is that the awful situation within the Mississippi Department of Corrections is spilling out into communities.

Conflict within the prison system is creating problems for cities throughout the state. Furthermore, there is a reasonable chance the situation becomes worse before it gets better.

The City of Hattiesburg will not accept this sort of activity as normal. We will not tolerate it, and we will act accordingly.

First, we plan on arresting those who break the law. The Hattiesburg Police Department has a strong record of solving crimes, and these situations will be no different.

Secondly, we will move forward with our partnership with Project NOLA.

This partnership will deploy high definition cameras throughout the city.

These cameras can detect gunshots and read license plates.

Cities that have used these cameras have seen significant decreases in violent crime over time. This idea was presented by Chief Parker during the November work session of the Hattiesburg City Council.

We have solicited feedback on this initiative, and it is time to move forward.

I will be asking the City Council to approve the purchase of the first set of Project NOLA cameras.

Third, we will foster more collaborations with other law enforcement agencies to make our manpower go farther.

Crime does not pay attention to the city limit line, the county line or where the university campus begins and ends. Sharing information and helping one another are crucial.

Next, we will continue with efforts to grow the number of police officers. When I took office in 2017, our police force was at 94 sworn personnel.

With the help of the City Council, we have instituted a pay scale, free tuition at Southern Miss and William Carey and began work on a new public safety building. All of these are designed to recruit and retain the best.

As our manpower continues to improve, we will soon have the capacity to establish specialized units that can partner with the community to make neighborhoods safer.

Finally, we will double down on our administration’s commitment to eliminating blight.

We have demolished some 75 dilapidated houses during my time as mayor.

We will continue to clean up our neighborhoods, and we will put pressure on landlords who allow problems to fester and knowingly rent to tenants involved in criminal activity.

What do we need from you?

1. Information.

Our police department does its job better when the community lets us know what is going on.

Again, I’ll say it. When it comes to Neal Paige last May, Jay Tarvin on January 3rd or Drake Edwards last night…I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone knows who committed those crimes.

Someone knows where the perpetrators are, and we need you to tell us. Furthermore, people hear chatter. People see what is on Snapchat or Instagram or Facebook.

If you see something, we need you to say something. 601-582-STOP. It’s confidential.

2. Support for the men and women in our police department.

Our entire police force (whether patrol, detectives or administration) want this criminal element out of Hattiesburg, and they regularly work themselves to exhaustion to solve crimes, prevent crimes and make the city better.

Supporting our police department also means showing patience over the next few weeks and months.

Again, I believe this problem could get worse before it gets better, but understand that no one wants these problems out of Hattiesburg more than we do.

This also means that individuals and media should avoid making ridiculous comparisons of Hattiesburg to larger cities (with crime problems much worse than ours). Statistics don’t support such comparisons, and reckless and inaccurate Facebook comments do little to boost morale for our officers.

Keyboard vigilantes do much to stir the pot but carry little credibility. I find they do even less to make our community better.

3. Common sense.

We preach all the time about hiding valuables, locking car doors and parking smart. Already this year, we have had 14 auto burglaries.

In all but one instance, doors were left unlocked.

Furthermore, in at least 6 cases, guns were stolen from these unlocked cars. These stolen guns will often be used to commit a crime - in many cases, a violent crime.

Hattiesburg is a safe city, but we want it to be safe all the time, for every neighborhood.

You play a part in that, as do I and the City Council, as does HPD. I cannot promise that this activity stops immediately, but we will evolve, press harder and do what is necessary to keep our community safe.

We are up for the challenge, and I ask you to join us.

Barker was elected mayor of Hattiesburg in 2007.