Sunday focus: Despite perception, leaders say crime is down in city
NATCHEZ — A sense that crime is rising in Natchez is mostly a false perception, city leaders say, perhaps made worse by social media.
Crime is actually down in many categories, the direct result, some people say, of renewed work of the Natchez Police Department and in particular, the work of Natchez Police Chief Danny White.
Crime statistics indicate violent crimes — homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults — were down in 2013, the first full year since White took over the department.
Homicides dropped from three in 2012 to one in 2013. Rapes dropped from 11 in 2012 to four in 2013. Robberies dropped from 29 in 2012 to 21 in 2013. Assaults dropped from 310 in 2013 to 253 in 2013.
White became chief in July 2012, though previously he oversaw NPD’s patrol officers as operation commander since 2005.
White said when he took over NPD, one of his first goals was to increase visibility in neighborhoods. He instructed his officers to get out of their cars while on patrol and talk to residents.
“As police officers, we need help from the community,” he said. “So we have to get out and talk to them. If you talk to people regularly, they’re going to be more willing to share information with you when you need it.
Despite a reduction in violent crimes, theft crimes have been rising since 2010.
Larcenies such as theft and shoplifting spiked to 856 reports in 2013, up from 672 in 2012.
Despite the recent jump, larcenies are below what they were in the early 2000s. Nearly 1,200 larcenies were reported in 2000.
Unlocked cars led to a rash of thefts of goods from vehicles last year, White said, which he said partially accounts for the increase.
Ward 2 Alderman Ricky Gray, chair of the city’s police committee, said he has noticed a theft problem in Natchez, but said he thinks a small segment of the population is responsible.
“We do have a problem with people who think they can go on other people’s property and steal,” he said. “They’re repeat offenders. When they’re locked up, the theft rate goes down, and when they get out, it goes up again.”
Statistics indicated burglaries dropped in 2013 to 205 reports, down approximately 14 percent from the previous year when 238 burglaries were reported.
Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith said she hears complaints from residents about break-ins, particularly downtown, but since the stats show burglaries are declining, Smith believes social media may play a factor into the perception that crime is increasing.
“I think with media reports online and Facebook and Twitter, word spreads so quickly now,” Smith said. “People have more of a voice now than they used to, so it may just be that people are hearing about things more now.”
Informed and cooperative residents can also be key tools in police work, White said, in particular active Neighborhood Watch programs.
“We need to be able to communicate … with the community and bridge the gap between citizens and the police department,” he said, adding Neighborhood Watch programs help police with that communication.
Woodlawn Neighborhood Watch captain Valencia Hall said she thinks limited perception could be contributing to residents feeling unsafe.
Woodlawn has been plagued with crime in the past and has been a problem area for police.
“From my own observations, I feel safer now since Chief White took over,” Hall said.
Patrols have increased in Woodlawn Hall said. Woodlawn saw the year’s first homicide in early January on Beaumont Street.
“I think it’s a lot better because there has been patrolling in this area,” Hall said. “In fact, I’ll see them at random coming home in the evening or going out early in the morning, even when they haven’t been asked to do extra patrols in the area. Chief White has been true to his word when he said he was going to increase patrols.”
West Stiers Lane Neighborhood Watch captain Dorothy Sanders said she feels safer in her neighborhood than she did in the past.
“Patrol has picked up in this area, and Chief White has given out his personal number to people so they can call him anytime, and he’s at our meetings or he makes sure he has a representative there,” Sanders said. “For me, I feel like I can go in and talk to him more (than previous chiefs) and that (his department) has more visibility now.”
One area in which police continue to struggle is in fighting shoplifting.
Shoplifting cases have been on the rise in the past year in Natchez Municipal Court.
Shoplifting is difficult for police to control, White said, because patrol officers do not police private businesses.
“We can’t have guys in there all the time, so it’s hard for us to control that,” he said.
Ensuring crime declines in Natchez is an everyday battle that takes a disciplined and active police force and cooperation from the community, White said.
“We have to let (the community) know that we are here for them, and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in this fight,” he said.