August 10, 2018 10:19:54 AM
Columbus Police Chief Fred Shelton released more details on last week's armed robbery outside The Princess Theater during a Columbus Police Department Overview Committee meeting Thursday.
The incident occurred just after midnight on Aug. 1 when several suspects, at least three of them armed, approached patrons sitting outside the downtown restaurant and stole jewelry from them. An off-duty police officer playing pool at The Princess exchanged gunfire with one of the suspects before the robbers fled the scene. Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is investigating the officer-involved shooting, while Columbus Police Department investigates the armed robbery.
Shelton said CPD has two suspects in custody, one a juvenile, and have identified two other suspects who he did not name.
"We have two other suspects identified, but right now we don't have enough evidence to make an arrest," Shelton told committee members. "We've got one of the guys that did the robbery, we've got the getaway guy. We did recover a weapon as well. All three of them had weapons and we did recover one of the weapons. The juvenile was trying to get rid of it, but we were right behind him. We got that."
Monday, CPD announced it had Lawrence Frederick Tate, Jr., 19, of 247 William Roberts Road, and charged him with two counts of armed robbery for his role in the downtown incident. Authorities have not released information on the other individual in custody.
Shelton added police have recovered some of the items taken from patrons in the incident.
Generally, the committee and Shelton agreed the entire incident was unusual. Law enforcement in Columbus have repeatedly said in public meetings and interviews with media that most violent crime in Columbus occurs between people who know each other.
"One of the things I pride myself on when I do say something about Columbus is we have a really low level of, 'Hey, stick 'em up,' truly random crime," committee member Colin Krieger said.
Krieger referenced a highly-publicized shooting in Cracker Barrel earlier this year in which a suspect entered the restaurant during business hours and shot an assistant manager. However, Krieger argued, even that wasn't "truly random" because the suspect had been looking for his girlfriend.
"They knew each other," Krieger said. "...Any other incident I can always do that. (Last week's armed robbery is) really one of the first ones probably since the person who got stuck up behind Fred's that one time where it seemed like this was kind of big-city. Is that what it looked like?"
Shelton agreed it was unusual. Moreover, he said, it seemed like an unusual night to rob a restaurant anyway; it was a Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning and there weren't many patrons at The Princess compared to weekends.
"It didn't make a lot of sense to us," he said.
Officer numbers, new training
Shelton also updated the committee on generally how CPD is faring. He said there are currently 63 officers, with three pending resignations. One of the resigning officers is moving to Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, another is going to Starkville Police Department and the third is going to Amory Police Department. The officer going to APD graduated from the academy Thursday, Shelton said, but is originally from Amory.
Shelton said APD will reimburse CPD for the officer's training.
Shelton called the resignations "growing pains," pointing out the shifts have 11 or 12 officers, whereas in 2017 they had 10 or fewer.
"We're a lot better than we were," he said.
Shelton said there are two candidates to be interviewed and that CPD will hold a career day in September for individuals interested in applying for CPD.
He also said CPD has implemented a new training program for officers who have recently graduated from police academies. Those officers are required to spend 15 weeks training with a veteran officer. In the past this has meant they patrol and work with the training officers, but Shelton said in addition to that aspect of training, they will be completing assignments and learning about their beats and the demographics of Columbus in a more structured curriculum.
"It has a community policing piece in it, where basically the officer, to complete his (field training), he has to complete an assignment in the neighborhood ... take on a project and actually complete that project as part of his learning process before he can actually graduate from the (training) program," he said.
He gave an example of an officer identifying a problem such as an elderly person in a neighborhood who needs to be checked on. The officer would need to identify resources and local organizations such as Contact Helpline who could assist the resident.
Committee president Steven James said programs like that, along with programs like Police Explorers, which is geared toward teenagers, and its volunteer program for seniors are what Columbus has needed from its police department.
The committee also planned a Christmas dinner for police officers and their families, which they scheduled for Dec. 8.
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