Leaders’ actions don’t match crime priorities

Published 12:14 am Sunday, October 28, 2007

Judging from recent headlines, an outsider might think that the City of Natchez is spiraling down into a state of anarchy — a society without laws.

But before we turn off the lights and head for greener pastures, let’s consider a few things.

First, each of the shootings and murders that have occurred this year are awful, plain and simple.

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From the domestic-related incidents to the ones that appear to be related to drug activity, the loss of human life is never something to be taken lightly.

In a reaction to what seems to be a rash of violent crimes lately, our city’s political leaders have heard concerns from citizens and plan to meet together on Wednesday to discuss how to address the “crime problem.”

Talking about the problems is a good first step into making an all-inclusive plan to attack the problem.

It’s ironic, however, that the city leaders chose Halloween night for the first such meeting.

The solution to crime begins with our youth. Criminal activity isn’t necessarily caused purely by choice. In some cases, toting guns illegally and settling scores violently comes from one’s upbringing and the culture in which the child considers “normal.”

So it’s ironic that the city’s meeting on crime comes on the one night of the year when most children and their parents are out seeking treats.

Second, Halloween is a holiday in which lots of people dress up and pretend to be something that they’re not.

The same thing is going on with our leaders. They say crime is a No. 1 priority, but their actions speak differently.

Case in point: for literally more than a decade, Natchez Police Department officials have complained that they struggle to keep good police officers since their pay rates are so low.

Too often, NPD leaders say, good officers move on to better paying jobs elsewhere. So essentially, NPD becomes mostly a training ground for other law enforcement agencies.

While increasing officer pay and other police resources alone won’t solve the crime problems, it’s a start.

We need to make up our minds that we, as a community, are willing to pay for top-notch law enforcement officers.

Further, city leaders want to have its citizens abide by the law, but the city’s hypocritical nature toward its own laws sends a mixed message.

In the last year or so, on a number of occasions, city leaders have either casually ignored or blatantly violated a number of laws.

From tearing down buildings without permission to bending rules regarding giving themselves raises, lots of bad practices have been put into play as public examples of the way laws don’t apply to people in power.

As simple as it sounds, our city isn’t enforcing lots of laws now, so is it any wonder we’re raising a generation of lawbreakers?

For example, is anyone enforcing the curfew laws?

What about loitering?

Beyond those, you can take it down a notch further. Even seemingly simple ordinances seem to be ignored often.

What about the sign ordinance or any of a number of historic preservation laws?

Look at the latest issue with the former First Baptist Church building.

The new owners appear to have circumvented preservation regulations by ripping out all the windows from the building. They did so with what they thought was permission of the board of aldermen — permission that the board doesn’t actually have the authority to grant.

If we want all the citizens to abide by the law, our leaders need to be setting good examples.

Despite the recent crime, Natchez is still a safe place to live and raise a family. Imagine how good the quality of life could be if we focused together and really invested in solutions rather than just talking about the problems.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.