Pattern of Secrecy: Critical Shortage

Pattern of Secrecy: Critical Shortage

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - From less-than-truthful crime statistics to details of high-profile killings intentionally left out, our investigation into the Jackson Police Department has established over the last three months that certain aspects of the department remain shrouded in secrecy.

Many rank-and-file members say staffing within the department is at a critical point.

Chief James Davis has refused to discuss this subject in an on-camera interview with WLBT despite multiple requests.

In fact, Davis hasn’t done a one-on-one interview with WLBT since our investigation uncovered inaccurate crime statistics in January, resulting in a visibly stunned command staff.

In that interview, we told Davis we had been waiting on the number of JPD’s active duty patrolmen for months.

“You could have just called me. You could have just called me and I would have told you," Davis said during that interview. "The number’s 180 active patrolmen.”

A departmental memo from Deputy Chief Tiny Harris -- which came out three months before Davis gave that number -- paints a more dire picture, showing fewer officers on the job than Davis told us: 161.

Becauwse Davis declined an on-camera interview multiple times, we asked him about those lower numbers over the phone Friday.

He made it sound like he’d never heard those numbers before.

“161? Wait, wait, I don’t know those numbers," Davis said.

Davis then said the numbers change from week to week, and explained that, during the January interview, he just cited something off the top of his head.

That figure he produced was also the same one he gave city council members one week before our one-on-one interview.

“You know, you had people retiring, you had people on leave, you had people, uh, come back. We have hired people," Davis said over the phone. "If I didn’t read those numbers out right there to you, I was probably telling you the latest numbers that I know of. If the latest numbers weren’t the fact right then, you can’t crucify me for a number.”

That phone conversation then turned into Davis repeatedly interrupting my questions, telling me I should be investigating other agencies because he said they have shortages, too.

The phone call lasted nearly 17 minutes.

“If you love accountability, prove to yourself that you can go out and do some of the stories with other departments,” Davis said over the phone. “And if you are an investigator, I’m like okay, I want to see how talented you are as an investigator. And that’s just a fact. That’s just right. That’s just the right thing to do. Anybody can look for an easy target, put this number here, you pop that number, come on. I’ve seen it. I see it. And it’s not right.”

At no point during that phone call did the chief say he thought those numbers were alarming.

But others do.

“I think it’s beyond critical. I think our finances are beyond critical. I think we’re focused on the fluff of things. I mean, it’s good to hear that Bloomberg’s going to give us some money for art, but art’s not our problem," said Ward 6 Councilman Aaron Banks. "

Further complicating Jackson’s public safety issue: the number of JPD officers seems to keep dropping.

Internal clearance sheets obtained exclusively by 3 On Your Side show those officers who are no longer with the department.

Since February, JPD records show 17 left the ranks; ten were patrol officers.

What’s the reasoning behind the departures?

Chief Davis told fellow officers Friday at the department’s Uniform Crime Report meeting that those kinds of manpower shifts are normal.

“You hear all over the media about people leaving, people coming. That’s nothing new. You will always have turnover in police. People retire, people leave, people get sick. For whatever reason, they’re leaving," Davis said.

Current and former officers tell a different story; they say low morale, poor pay and a lack of leadership are behind it.

“We’ve lost good officers, and there’s various reasons. Some officers feel that it’s not a pro-police environment, and then, most importantly is the amount of money that we pay people to go out and risk their lives on a daily basis," Banks said.

Banks said the starting salary for a JPD officer is $25,000.

Compare that to the lowest-paid deputy chief, who makes more than $67,000.

Davis hasn’t said anything about these claims from officers recently, but back in January he disagreed with those concerns.

“Under my administration, that’s completely opposite of what I’m hearing. What I’m getting -- and I’m talking to each and every one of them. ‘Chief, we appreciate seeing you out here. We appreciate seeing the deputy chiefs out here. We appreciate seeing the commanders, instead of giving orders, they’re out here doing it,'" Davis said. "I don’t know who you’re talking to.”

The reality for residents is this: the fewer patrol officers JPD has, the harder it is for the department to make sure every part of the Capital City is protected.

JPD said Wednesday that it has 214 active duty officers working a beat, but sources within the department say that number is much lower: 173.

Which one is correct?

It depends on how the department compiles them.

Internal documents show JPD has 173 patrol officers who specifically work the city’s beats.

It appears JPD got that larger number by adding 22 sergeants, 5 lieutenants, and 14 members of special operations, which includes DUI and DART, to the 173 patrol officers.

That makes 214 active in patrol operations, but doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all assigned to one of the city’s 44 beats.

“The ideal number is 260 patrolmen. Unfortunately, we don’t have that," Davis said in January.

Unfortunately, Davis’ statement also contradicts that October memo from Deputy Chief Harris, a memo sent directly to Davis.

Harris said the minimum number JPD needs to effectively sustain day-to-day patrol operations across the city would be 264 officers.

The latest documentation obtained by 3 On Your Side shows the department is short by 91 officers.

“I think we still owe it to the citizens to be brutally honest. People have to know where we are. They have to know how bad things are," Banks said.

Banks’ concerns echo the last question we asked Davis during that Friday phone call: do people who live in Jackson have a right to know how many officers are protecting them on the streets?

“If that’s what you need to make you feel better, you chew it, digest it, and you live with it,” Davis said. “And that’s all I’m gonna say on it. Whatever question you get, I’m gonna give you the facts, and we’ll move from there.”

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