May 20, 2010 10:04:00 AM
Kristin Mamrack -
Community involvement is key to crime prevention, city and county officials said Wednesday.
During a meeting of the intergovernmental relations committee, officials discussed crime in Columbus and Lowndes County.
District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith noted he received reports of "increased crime in District 4," including "drive-by shootings and fights."
Referring to officials'' formation of task forces and other committees to discuss ways of preventing crime as a "Band-Aid approach," he said. "I don''t see where we''re making any progress."
"I think there needs to be more energy applied," he explained. "We''re getting into the summer months and (people) are going to be getting pretty aggressive.
"I think the sheriff''s department and police department are doing all they can," Board President and Lowndes County District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders said, after Columbus Mayor Robert Smith noted law enforcement agencies are "short-handed."
"They''re maxed out," Sanders said. "I think what you do is get the citizens involved; get the churches involved. You''ve got to change the attitude, so you have more snitches.
"Instead of it being wrong to snitch, it should be right to snitch," he continued of witnesses to crimes not reporting the activity to law enforcement personnel. "As long as you have that attitude, it''s going to get worse."
"We''re only as good as the community involvement," said Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin. "You''ve got to get your community to realize this is their community. They''ve got to take pride in their community and responsibility. To blame (the police) is wrong. We''re responsible. The people have to take responsibility for themselves. When they see something, they need to call and tell somebody."
The meeting comes on the heels of two fatal shootings in Columbus. Ranzino Ahmad Harris, 22, of 301 Bishop Circle in Columbus, was charged with murder and aggravated assault with a weapon after he allegedly shot Justin Murry, 22, at 1415 Schoolhouse Ave., Monday morning. Neither Harris nor Murry had prior arrests or convictions; the two reportedly were arguing. Harris turned himself in shortly after the killing.
Last month, Quentin Antonio "Que" Spencer, 20, of 455 Merry Valley Drive in Columbus, was shot to death at the Everyday Club and Lounge on Seventh Avenue North. The building, which is owned by Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and operated by a tenant, has been shut down indefinitely.
"Go back to your childhood," Sanders told the members of the committee, which also included Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor, Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem, County Administrator Ralph Billingsley, the city''s chief operations officer, David Armstrong, the city''s chief financial officer, Mike Bernsen, and the county''s CFO, Dave Basinger. "If the neighbors saw us doing something wrong, they wore us out."
"We are living in different times," said Karriem. "It is a cultural problem we are facing. We all have to work together to come up with a deterrent."
"I don''t know that it''s a cultural thing," responded Sanders. "It goes through society; it''s all cultures. The police department and sheriff''s department can''t be responsible for the morality of the whole city."
"No one here is blaming the police department or sheriff''s department," said Jeff Smith. "There are issues out there and you''re right, you have to empower the community. We have to initiate things ourselves within our own communities.
"Being informed, being concerned, that doesn''t make you a snitch," he added. "It makes you concerned."
Enforcement and prevention
"Nobody''s pointing figures, but at the same time, if the city has a curfew ordinance, that needs to be enforced," said Karriem, who noted crime is a problem with all races and ethnic groups. "There are laws on the books that need to be enforced."
"Parents have got to take the initiative," said the mayor. "You could have 200 police and 200 deputies (and) we''re still going to have crime."
"Prevention is what we need to figure out," said Sanders. "It''s just like the litter problem. We''ve been looking at it so long, I think we''ve just accepted it. It''s not politically correct to tell guys there''s no way you''re ever going to get a job, if your pants are down at your knees. We say it''s our culture or they''re just kids."
"The perception with a lot of people is as long as it doesn''t affect me or my family, I don''t care," said Robert Smith.
"It can''t become the norm," said Karriem. "Guns are prevalent in the community every day. It''s across the board. It''s a reality now."
"It''s education that''s key," said Sanders.
"I just think we need to send a message: We''re not going to give our community up to the crime," said Jeff Smith. "They need to know we''re not handing our city and our county over to them."
Kabir informed the committee the current class of The Minority Leadership Training and Development Program will hold a public meeting on crime at 6 p.m. June 10 at the Columbus Municipal Complex.
In another matter, the committee discussed a memorandum of understanding regarding the renovation of the historic Highway 82 bridge across the Tombigbee River.
The officials decided the city will be responsible for upkeep and maintenance on the bridge, which the county owns, and a MOU reflecting the decision, as well as other terms, will be drafted.
The committee also agreed to allow Main Street Columbus to form a "design committee," to include representatives of the City Council and Board of Supervisors, to handle preliminary designs of the pedestrian bridge.
Final design plans will be submitted for approval by the City Council and Board of Supervisors.
The project to renovate the bridge into a pedestrian walkway will be funded by a $2 million Mississippi Department of Transportation grant; the city, county and Convention and Visitors Bureau each will pay a third of a required $400,000 match on the project.