JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Over the course of nearly eight months, Jackson police have issued just five citations for violating one of Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s executive orders relating to the coronavirus pandemic, according to municipal court data obtained by 3 On Your Side.
Three of those citations came in July and August, after Lumumba implemented a mask mandate and social distancing guidelines for the state’s largest city. The data, compiled monthly, does not indicate whether individuals or businesses were the subject of those citations.
Lumumba took issue with the information 3 On Your Side received when asked about it Wednesday.
“I think that number would also have to be checked with the number of citations that have not actually been delivered to the Municipal Court,” Lumumba said, suggesting far more citations had been issued and not yet filed in the city’s court system.
The municipal court data, obtained by 3 On Your Side from the city through a public records request, doesn’t appear to support that claim. It shows the last two citations issued and filed in court back in August, nearly four months ago.
That would mean for Lumumba’s suggestion to be correct, those additional citations would have been missing for months.
“What you have to realize is that we’re dealing with a number of competing factors. One, the actual administration of how you issue citations to, you know, people spread out across the city,” Lumumba said. “I’ve always said that more so than it being a function of the law, that the number one factor that would, that would, that would, you know, create the cooperation would be personal responsibility, that we were calling on people to exercise personal responsibility.”
Lumumba said the coronavirus pandemic has forced them to limit operations in the city’s municipal court.
“We cannot have a long line of people that are in the courts because of the virus,” Lumumba said. “There have been a number of citations that they’ve had to issue and deal with over time.”
It’s unclear if Lumumba was talking about citations in general or those stemming from violation of his executive orders. In March, Lumumba acknowledged to 3 On Your Side that officer shortages would make enforcement of the city’s then-stay at home order difficult, but not impossible.
“We’re not suggesting that we’re gonna have an officer on every corner. That’s not realistic, and that’s not the measure we feel we need to impose. But we will have people checking that we don’t have public gatherings that threaten the lives of individuals,” Lumumba said.
It’s not known what impact officer shortages within the Jackson Police Department might have on the department’s ability to enforce those executive orders; department spokesperson Sam Brown did not respond to requests for comment on the reasons behind the number of citations 3 On Your Side uncovered.
Jackson isn’t unique in dealing with limited law enforcement resources to help enforce pandemic-related regulations. Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs said they’ve been more selective with issuing citations in hopes that they can inform instead of punish.
At the same time, Flaggs, who initially didn’t support mask mandates until speaking to White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Deborah Birx, now believes those measures work and protect his residents.
“I don’t want somebody’s loved one’s death on my hand because I didn’t do something, or I didn’t say something,” Flaggs said. “I want to do what I can to minimize the spread of disease and save lives wherever there’s a means.”
Flaggs said they’ve issued 3 citations since implementing a mask mandate in April. They also had at least seven warnings issued, too, and even had to arrest someone.
“This person was just refusing to wear a mask in a circumstance and was standing in the business and he really got out of hand,” Flaggs said.
The incident, which took place last week in a convenience store, required the police department’s compliance officer to step in and arrest the man, who now faces a misdemeanor charge.
Lumumba echoes Flaggs’ point about using the enforcement measures as a teaching tool when possible.
“The goal was, was never to make it, you know, an over-criminalization of our society, as it was to emphasize the importance of our health and our safety,” Lumumba said. “And so it was never our goal to see how much money we can extract from people through the midst of this pandemic, but to encourage people in order to wear masks, to mask up and protect themselves. And by and large we see that take place.”