Officials, convenience store managers talk crime

Published 12:43 am Saturday, April 8, 2017

NATCHEZ — Following multiple recent robberies and burglaries, community law enforcement leaders and local convenience store managers met Friday to discuss ideas for deterring future crimes.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell called the meeting in response to a recent wave of robberies and burglaries that targeted mostly convenience stores as well as two other businesses.

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Five convenience stores were robbed and two businesses burglarized from Feb. 28 to March 21, and law enforcement officials have said they believe the man responsible is now behind bars.

Jeffrey Wayne Clark, 51, 18 Prince Addition Road, was charged for the Feb. 28 armed robbery of Kaiser’s Mobil Mart on U.S. 61 North, the March 2 robbery of Kaiser’s Food and Fuel on U.S. 61 South, the March 28 robbery of Sprint Mart on Seargent S. Prentiss Drive and the March 20 burglaries of Davidson’s Package Store and Panda Buffet.

Christopher Wimberly, 35, 1018 Martins Lane, was arrested and charged for the March 2 robbery of the Morgantown Exxon.

The only remaining reported convenience store robbery Clark has not been charged in connection with is the March 7 robbery of the Sprint Mart on Wood Avenue. Police have said they are confident he is responsible for that robbery, but lack sufficient evidence to charge him.

Clark was arrested on March 21, and officials have pointed out that the robberies have since stopped. He remains in the Adams County Jail.

Local convenience store owners and managers were invited to the meeting, and a handful of managers and staff attended.

Grennell, Police Chief Daniel White, District Attorney Ronnie Harper and City Planner Riccardo Giani attended the meeting.

Last week, Grennell, White, Harper, Giani, Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten, Adams County Supervisor Mike Lazarus and Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier met to discuss ways to prevent crime and help storeowners and staff minimize the risk for being robbed or burglarized.

At Friday’s meeting, the store representatives shared concerns about the police department and were given tips about how to prevent a robbery and how to react if one occurs.

Giani gave a presentation showing photos of area stores during daylight and night to analyze potential strengths and weaknesses for deterring crime at the locations.

Common themes included, Giani said, poor lighting, multiple open access points, window signage blocking visibility and other issues. Giani gave the store representatives suggestions on how to maximize safety precautions at their locations.

Store representatives voiced concerns about the response from police department officers and dispatchers.

Lynn Manoley with B Kwik on Homochitto Street near The Malt Shop said she deeply appreciates the service of law enforcement and noted that she believes the service of Natchez police has recently improved. She said, however, she has experienced issues with officers and dispatchers in the past.

Manoley said she has resorted to just handling issues at her store herself when she feels it is safe to do so.

“I’ve just gotten to where I just try and handle it myself if I can,” she said.

Manoley gave an example of a time she called an officer because a suspicious vehicle was in the store’s parking lot well before opening time.

“(The officer’s response) was that, ‘Oh he just goes out and drinks too much, and he was just sleeping in your parking lot. He just drinks sometimes. He’s not a threat to you.’” she said. “(The officers) need to look at it through other people’s eyes. They go on so many calls, I think, that are nothing, they don’t realize it’s serious to us. I don’t know what he’s doing out in my parking lot.”

Dispatchers, Manoley said, have also been unhelpful at times, and she has waited two hours for an officer to arrive, only to call back and be told that dispatchers didn’t have a record of the call.

“They condescend to you, because you’re just a measly convenience store manager. … I’m not trying to sound petty. … I hope you understand where I coming from,” Manoley told the chief.

Pamela Lewis, a Sprint Mart team leader, said a shoplifter took a 12-pack of beer from her store and she made a video and gave a car tag number to police, but no one was ever arrested.

“Even though it was a 12-pack of beer, when people get out that you’re being watchful of everything, they’ll say, ‘Don’t rob that store because they keep an eye on everything,’” she said.

White promised to check into open cases the store representatives brought up and address concerns of officer and dispatcher conduct.

Grennell said it was important that the chief heard negative feedback so that issues could be addressed, and thanked the store representatives for sharing their concerns.

White distributed a list of precautions to take to deter crime and how to calmly and appropriately act if a crime happens. Storeowners wishing to get a full copy of White’s recommendations can contact the police department at 601-445-5565.

White suggested clerks comply with demands of robbers, try to keep any witnesses in the store or get contact information for police, remember to remain calm and observe as many details as possible, and even mark their door with a certain height so that when a suspect exits they will have a point of reference for a description.

Harper said an important aspect of deterring crimes is being able to convict and put criminals behind bars.

“You can know somebody committed a crime, but if you can’t prove they committed the crime, you’re wasting your time even bothering,” he said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the store representatives thanked the officials for taking the time to meet with them, and both officials and the store representatives pledged cooperation to help fight crime.