Beaumont crime issues discussed

Published 12:05 am Thursday, October 22, 2015

NATCHEZ — The sound of gunshots and the sight of drug deals have become commonplace for residents on Beaumont Street in Natchez.

It’s a street where residents say they’re afraid to sit on their front porches and cooperate with police for fear of retaliation.

Beaumont has been the site of at least two drive-by shootings in the less than a month. Two people were murdered on Beaumont in 2014.

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Residents and law enforcement, city and county officials gathered in the city council chambers Wednesday to discuss a solution to curb crime on Beaumont.

Ward 2 Alderman Gray and Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis asked what the board of aldermen could do to formally declare Beaumont a high-crime or nuisance area, giving the city more power to abate the problem. Gray and Mathis said they were prepared to move immediately on whatever legal means the city has.

Adams County Attorney Scott Slover said the city could gather evidence of consistent violations of the law at particular properties and file a lawsuit against the property owners asking the chancery court to declare the properties a nuisance.

Much of the crime that happens on Beaumont, residents said, is associated with people who do not live on Beaumont and just hang out on the street.

“We get a bad rap living over there, but (the crime) is not even from people living over there,” a resident said.

Lt. Craig Godbold said police constantly have to run people away from Beaumont who claim they are visiting someone, but do not live on the street.

The residents thanked Godbold and others they’ve seen on Beaumont personally patrolling and said they appreciate the recent attention the police have given Beaumont Street.

Past incidents when residents have felt their complaints have fallen on deaf ears or have been mishandled has caused a lack of trust in police, residents said.

One resident pointed to an instance when a police officer responded to a group of boys fighting in the Beaumont area and revealed to the boys who called the police to report them.

Gray said he found that situation particularly disturbing, especially when residents already fear retaliation. Chief Danny White was not aware of the incident, but agreed it was mishandled.

White and NPD Detective Jerry Ford pointed to the successes of neighborhood watch programs as a potential solution to help curb crime.

One resident said they should not have to be a part of neighborhood watch programs to feel like they are going to get protection from police.

“I’m not bashing the police,” the resident said. “I appreciate you all.”

“It has been quieter since (the police recently increased patrols), but we’re just afraid it’s going to fall off to the wayside. We’re aware you have more areas to patrol than just Beaumont.”

Cooperating with police is a good idea in theory, one resident said, but in the “ghetto,” helping police can mean a beating — or worse — from a criminal.

“I don’t know where you live or you live,” the resident said, pointing to Mayor Butch Brown and law enforcement officials. “But the rules in the suburbs are not the same as the rules in the ghetto. You can’t take a suburban idea and apply it to the ghetto because it just doesn’t work that way.”

Arceneaux-Mathis said crime on Beaumont has been a problem for many years, but has become worse in recent years with criminals becoming more brazen.

Arceneaux-Mathis said she did not want to see black residents harassed by police, but noted that at some point, protecting residents is more important. Residents in the area of Beaumont are predominantly black.

“Now, I swear I don’t want to see black folks harassed,” she said “But I’m to the point where somebody needs to start harassing somebody. Do you want to bury folks, or do you want to harass some people?”

Adams County Sheriff-elect Travis Patten stood at the meeting to thank residents for having the courage to come to the meeting and to ensure them work was being done on cases that would send a message to criminals on Beaumont Street.

Patten applauded the police department’s recent efforts to beef up patrols.

“That’s something that will at least help build the relationship (between police and residents) back up for the city … and the county, too,” Patten said. “I really don’t care (about the difference) between the city and county. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s brown or blue, we all bleed red.”

Supervisors David Carter, Calvin Butler and Angela Hutchins also voiced concerns about crime.

Carter said he thinks some of the problem is not with the police, who do their jobs by arresting criminals, but with the courts that release the criminals back onto the streets with light sentences.

Mayor Butch Brown pointed to the success the city had in cleaning up Minor Street in the 1990s as an example that it can be done with Beaumont Street.

He said bringing attention to blighted and high-crime areas would help clean up the neighborhoods.

“Dirty people don’t like clean places,” he said,

Gray said the acceptability of illegal activity in some areas of the city and not others is evident by just walking into businesses, where pipes that could be used to smoke drugs are sold. The pipes are legal, Chief White said, if the business is advertising them as tobacco pipes.

A resident said just because crime is a problem in some parts of the city and not others does not mean it will stay that way.

“Don’t think the weeds in your back yard won’t end up in your front yard,” the resident said.

Gray said the time to act on Beaumont is now.

“It’s better to deal with it in October 2015 than in March 2016, when one of our people from out-of-town turns on the wrong street and ends up getting their head blown off, and then we just want to run over there and clean everything up,” he said.