Jackson business leaders are pleased that Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin is now serving as the city’s police chief and are optimistic that the dual role will serve to strengthen crime prevention. Several feel the perception of crime in Jackson is greater than the reality.
“I couldn’t be more enthusiastic and excited about his appointment as police chief,” said Leland Speed, a long time business and civic leader. “With 85% of county residents living in the city, it was the thing to do. We need to look at more combined things for the county and city.”
Ross Tucker, executive director of the Metro Jackson Economic Development Alliance, sees a renewed sense of hope with McMillin coming on board.
“Unfortunately, perception is reality, and people think crime is worse here than it is,” he said. “I travel all over the country, and we’re no worse off than other cities.”
Realtor Mike Peters also feels the perception of high crime is something the city must work to erase. “The new chief is fabulous for the city,” he said. “That’s one of the best things the mayor has done since he took office.”
But Speed said the perception is definitely not reality, and cited the Mississippi Bureau of Justice crime statistics as reported to the FBI. He noted that it’s against federal law to turn in wrong numbers. The national ranking has Jackson below Little Rock, Memphis, New Orleans, Nashville, Houston, Baton Rouge and other cities.
“We’re asking people to look at the numbers and the specifics,” he said. “We’re compared with 11 cities and we’re not worst in anything.”
In his current capacity as a planning consultant with the city, Speed brought in a team of professional planners to study the city’s needs, including the crime issue. “They explained how we’ve talked ourselves into this perception of crime,” he said. “We’ve become so paranoid about it. We’re solidly convinced that it’s worse than it is.”
The visitors met with Mayor Frank Melton and asked him to talk about public safety and security, which Speed feels are more on the positive side.
“I’m an optimist. People are coming back in off the ledge and taking a close look at the city,” he said. “There’s more construction going on in the city than I can ever remember. The official metro population is 539,000. We are growing in population.”
The 66 blocks comprising the downtown area has the lowest crime rate in the metro area, said Ben Allen, president of Downtown Jackson Partners.
“The challenge is to communicate that to the public,” he said. “The perception is that it’s not safe downtown and nothing could be farther from the truth. Crime has gone down dramatically.”
Admitting that things are not perfect, Allen said panhandling and vagrancy have increased since Hurricane Katrina brought more non-profit organizations to town. “There is no politically correct way to say it, but non-profits attract this sort of thing,” he said.
Charles Richardson, executive director of the Fondren Foundation, thinks the perception of crime will improve with the new police chief. “I don’t want to minimize crime, but it’s more a perception than reality,” he said. “If you look at statistics, crime in Fondren is lower than other parts of Jackson and the state — significantly lower.”
Richardson moved to Jackson from Baton Rouge last April and has a theory about the perception of rampant crime in Jackson. “Jackson has three TV stations and the largest newspaper in the state,” he said. “They’re competitive, and there has to be something to report so every little petty crime is reported. It was not that way in Baton Rouge.”
Like Fondren, Belhaven is a historic part of the city that is growing and must fight the perception of crime. Virgi Lindsey, executive director of the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation, has lived in the area 20 years and feels safe.
“I’m very happy about Malcolm McMillin becoming police chief. He’s amazing — a good law officer and a community builder,” she said. “We’ve been fortunate to have a long standing relationship with him. He helped with our building and with the produce market and provided security.”
Lindsey said McMillin has partnered with a lot of the city’s areas and brings that history and knowledge to the job as police chief.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.