JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Over nearly nine months, a surge of killings in the Capital City has propelled the city on a course that could make 2020 the deadliest year in history, according to an analysis of data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and individual reports from the Jackson Police Department.
At the same time, the number of active duty officers patrolling a beat keeps dropping despite recruit classes that bring more patrolmen into the fold.
As of Thursday, Jackson had 75 homicides thus far in 2020, a 23 percent increase over the same period last year.
Shootings that result in injury or death, which 3 On Your Side keeps track of through individual JPD reports, are also up 20 percent over 2019, an indicator of gun violence in the city.
Last April, a 3 On Your Side investigation explored what many called a “critical shortage” of manpower within the department, with internal documents showing JPD had 173 active duty officers, and a minimum of 264 patrol officers “are essential to sustain an effective day-to-day operation in each precinct.”
City Council President Aaron Banks said JPD now has 155 active duty patrolmen, a loss of 18 officers over sixteen months.
Perhaps more surprising: the department also graduated a recruit class during that time, which added more members of the rank-and-file.
“In a capital city like Jackson, you should never be able to ride from Terry Road all the way to West County Line Road in north Jackson and not see an officer,” Banks said. “You should see at least six just on that route. That has to change.”
Part of the challenge, Banks said, is providing competitive pay. Right now, the starting salary for a JPD officer is $26,000.
Banks said he and other council members have found a way to increase pay without costing the city additional money.
“We’ll freeze 50 positions, right? We won’t fund 50 positions. We’ll only fund 350 positions. You take the money from the 50 frozen positions to raise the base so we can give adequate pay,” Banks said.
Banks hopes those efforts will raise the starting salary to at least $31,000. There’s also a morale problem, Banks said, stemming from a lack of leadership that extends to the police chief.
“[Police Chief] James Davis is a good guy. However, with what we’re looking at, it takes a certain level of being able to step up and manage professionals, manage officers, and to demand the type of character that is needed in this situation,” Banks said.
Banks believes some officers within the department waste too much time on patrol, which further hurts the department since they’re already understaffed.
He and Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote said more officers will help reduce crime, even if those officers can’t necessarily stop interpersonal conflicts that lead to most of the city’s killings. To get those ranks back up, however, they have to keep officers from leaving JPD.
“We’re the only government in the metro area that actually has police academies, and, too often, we train people up to be policemen only to see them hired away from other governments in the metro area,” Foote said.
3 On Your Side reached out to Chief Davis for an interview regarding the uptick in gun violence and whether the department had any potential strategies to reduce those incidents, but did not receive a response.