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Project EJECT comes to Natchez, Adams County

NATCHEZ — Federal and local law enforcement are combining efforts to fight crime in Natchez and Adams County through a crime-fighting initiative called Project EJECT, officials announced during a Wednesday press conference at the Natchez Police Department.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Mike Hurst said Project EJECT is a partnership between Hurst’s office, the Natchez Police Department, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, the local District Attorney’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol Firearms and Explosives.

The agencies will combine forces “all sharing a common goal to make Adams County and the City of Natchez safer and more secure for everyone,” Hurst said while standing at a lectern flanked by representatives of each of the participating agencies.

Hurst also announced Wednesday that for the first time ever, an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, Bert Carraway, has been assigned to Natchez and Adams County to address violent crime.

“This assistant U.S. attorney will lead the efforts down here to coordinate law enforcement, to train law enforcement and to work with our DA to determine which cases should go local or federal (courts)” Hurst said. “But let me be clear, if you violate federal law we will arrest you immediately, we will move to detain you until your trial. You’re not going to get a deal that lets you out in just a couple of months. You will serve time in the federal system without parole.”

Hurst said, too, that he has an assurance from his counterpart on the Louisiana side of the river that the Louisiana district will not provide sanctuary for Mississippi suspects fleeing prosecution.

Hurst said a similar crime-fighting initiative launched in Jackson approximately 14 months ago under the U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Safe Neighborhoods. That initiative also was tiled Project EJECT, Hurst said, adding it is an acronym for Empower Jackson, Expel Crime Together.

At the time of the launch in Jackson, Hurst said, the capital city was ranked one of the top 10 deadliest cities in America, with a violent crime rate 200 percent higher than the state average and 120 percent higher than the national average.

In the first year, Hurst said, the initiative resulted in indictments of more than 130 people for violent federal crimes.

“We detained 98 percent,” Hurst said, “of those individuals to await their trial and we have already convicted half of those individuals. But what I really am excited about is after that first year, after the hard work put in by the Jackson Police Department, federal law enforcement and many, many others, the violent crime rate in the City of Jackson fell last year by 7 percent.”

Hurst said that percentage drop translates to 108 fewer people becoming victims of violent crimes last year in Jackson

“That’s 108 fathers, mothers, daughters, sons who did not just become a crime statistic in our capital city,” Hurst said, adding the credit goes to the men and women in law enforcement.

Hurst said the reduction in crime was not accomplished through prosecution alone, however, but also through prevention efforts.

Hurst said prosecutors and agents went into the Jackson public schools last year to educate more than 400 youths on life choices and consequences.

“Those kids signed gun pledges where they pledged not to use guns to resolve conflicts,” Hurst said. “Where they pledged to help their friends not to use guns to resolve conflicts. We also went to elementary schools around Jackson and tutored third-graders to help them get the help they need to get past the third-grade reading gate. We’re also working with high school students and coaching them in the statewide mock trial competition. That’s what we’re doing on the prevention side.”

Hurst said awareness efforts included holding town hall meetings and listening tours to get input from people who live in communities and local elected officials, law enforcement and clergy.

“We’re actually taking the ideas and input they have given us and we are changing Project EJECT to match the communities that we serve,” Hurst said.

Reentry efforts include working with the Mississippi Department of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to get into jails to help educated offenders before they are released, Hurst said, to give them the skills they need to be successful in returning to the community.

Hurst said he has been meeting with local law enforcement and local economic leaders for the past several months about the city and county’s violent crimes.

Natchez and Adams County had 14 murders in 2018, Hurst said, adding he commends local leaders and law enforcement for their efforts in fighting, solving and prosecuting violent crime.

Since 2015, Hurst said, the national violent crime rate rose 7 percent and the national murder rate rose 20 percent.

“Unfortunately, the city of Natchez is not immune to these trends,” Hurst said.

Natchez had 64 violent crimes in 2016, the last year for which the Federal Bureau of Investigation has records, Hurst said, which is 20 times higher than the state average.

Hurst said the federal agencies involved in Project EJECT are not replacing the efforts of local law enforcement but are acting as a “force multiplier,” for local law enforcement.

“By working together we can accomplish so much more,” Hurst said.

On Tuesday, Hurst said, Project EJECT was expanded to include Meridian. The program also was added to Moss Point last week and in Hattiesburg a few weeks ago.

“With this expansion, we’ve changed the name from the acronym,” Hurst said. “Now EJECT will stand for Empower Justice Expel Crime Together.”

Empower, Hurst said, means getting in to the schools and teaching young people about life choices and working to educate inmates before they are released from incarceration and working with colleges and businesses to encourage them to give people a second chance.

Expel, Hurst said, is to rid communities of criminal elements.

The key to success of the program, however, Hurst said, is the “T” in EJECT — Together.

“To all citizens of Natchez, to the citizens of Adams County, to the citizens of all of Mississippi, I say, ‘Join us. Help us to make our communities, our neighborhoods, safer and more secure,’” Hurst said.

Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong said he is more than happy to have Project EJECT come to Natchez.

“We are only as good as the people we serve,” Armstrong said. “We need the community to work with us.”

As part of the announcement, Dana K. Nichols, special agent in charge of the New Orleans Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, said her office and resources would be involved and ready to assist in the Natchez and Adams County Project EJECT.

“The ATF is committed to supporting the community,” Nichols said, adding that people have asked her why the ATF in Natchez, to which she said she replies, “Why not? Do not the lives of the Natchez and Adams County citizens matter? They deserve the same freedom everyone of us want every day.”

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said he was happy to have Project EJECT expand to Natchez and Adams County.

“This is a good day in the city,” Grennell said. “It is the art of synergy, working together to enhance life and deal with the criminal element.”

Grennell said he had seen a television news segment a few weeks back when Project EJECT was announced in Hattiesburg and was delighted to receive a telephone call later the same day from Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong telling him the project would be coming to Natchez.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten also expressed happiness with Project EJECT coming to the community.

“With Project EJECT coming in, there are no bounds the long arms of the law cannot reach,” Patten said.

Likewise, Adams County District Attorney Ronnie Harper said he is pleased with the Project EJECT coming to the community.

“Sincerely, thanks for coming here,” Harper said, adding he had no territorial concerns in dealing with the federal agencies. “Any help we get is beneficial to us.”

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