Crime, perception of it, influencing economic development in Jackson

by Lynne W. Jeter

Published: October 9,2000

JACKSON – Armed with a new economic development plan, with plenty of nifty new incentives, is it enough to attract new industry and encourage expansions in

Jackson, particularly the Midtown, Fondren and Jackson Medical Education District areas, or does crime have a significant impact?

Jackson Police Department Chief Bracy Coleman emphatically says crime is being reduced.

“Reducing crime is not just the law enforcement problem, but it is everybody’s problem,” Coleman said. “Everyone has to play their part in helping us reduce crime.

The ultimate responsibility lies with us, because we are the law enforcement entity here, but we have to have the cooperation of every citizen, organization, business

and entity within the city.”

Others are not as convinced.

“If the wheels of justice were turning, we wouldn’t have this problem,” said a security guard, who requested anonymity.

“A lot more could be done in economic development if the police would get on the ball,” said another.

The crime rate has nothing to do with race, one added. “If my car broke down in Canton, which is majority black, I wouldn’t hesitate to knock on somebody’s door.

If the same thing happened in Jackson, I wouldn’t dare.”

Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson, Jr. said the perception of crime in Jackson is a hindrance to economic development.

“Crime, reduction of crime and perception of crime all have an impact on the economic development of a city,” Johnson said. “We are working very hard to drastically

reduce crime in Jackson, and recent statistics show that what we are doing under Chief Bracy Coleman is working, especially in terms of crimes of violence and crimes

against persons.”

Johnson said he is very aware that businesses looking at locating and expanding in a city are also concerned about property crimes, and the cost of providing security

for their employees and property.

“Unfortunately, the perception of crime remains long after statistics show a reduction,” he said. “We have to tell the good news as well as having honest dialogue about

the problems. We have to do both, because fighting crime involves citizen participation, and citizens must be aware of what is happening in order to cooperate with

law enforcement.”

In the Jackson Medical Education District (JMED), which includes Belhaven, North Midtown, and the southern portion of Fondren North, statistics show that crime

as a whole declined significantly from February to May 2000 compared to the same time period last year. In the four-month period, 438 auto burglaries and 321 auto

thefts were reported in 1999, compared to 62 auto burglaries and 41 auto thefts this year.

“We are making positive strides in making the area one that is perceived – and is – a safe place to work and live,” said Jimmy Ware, president of JMED, a

seven-member consortium that includes the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Mississippi Methodist Rehabilitation Center,

St. Dominic Hospital, Baptist Medical Center, Belhaven College and Millsaps College.

“Those folks have a tremendous amount of capital invested in the area, and they want to see it improved economically, visually and the whole nine yards,” said Ware.

“In the late 1990s, they hired a consultant to do a plan for the area. One of the first things mentioned was that the perception of crime in the area was a hindrance to

further economic development. That prompted the institutions to form a security committee, of which Millsaps College security chief Wayne Miller is currently

chairman, to talk about what can be done to improve security in the area. One of the first things they did was purchase a radio system, so if there’s a problem at the

VA, for example, and a guy steals a car and is headed to UMC, they can alert the others. Prior to that, none of the institutions could communicate, except through

JPD. By taking measures like that, we are making some very positive strides.”

Last year, from February to May, nearly 100 business burglaries were reported in the JMED area, compared to 18 in the same time period this year. Grand larceny

was down 84%, from 192 cases reported from February to May in 1999 to 31 cases in the same four months in 2000.

“According to Comstat reports, crime in the JMED area is decreasing,” said Ware. “However, a lot of it is moving to I-55 and north Jackson.”

Many businesses view the Midtown area as “ridden with crime,” M.C. Burks, executive director of the Community Development Corp. in Jackson.

“But the stats aren’t nearly as bad as the perception would indicate,” he said.

Within the next month, Wackenhut Corp. will be moving into the former Blackburn Dental Lab on McTyere Street in North Midtown, a coup that many say will deter

crime simply with its presence.

Burks said the removal and/or renovation of abandoned buildings in the business district of Midtown has facilitated the reduction in crime, and businesses that would

not previously consider located in the area have reconsidered.

“A number of businesses have moved back to Jackson from the suburbs, and speak positively about their moves,” Johnson said. “Many were apprehensive at first,

but made the move because of proximity to their customers. Their apprehension was found to be without validity, and they are encouraging others to follow their lead.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lynne@thewritingdesk.com or (601) 853-3967.


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