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United Front: Local, state, federal officials tout efforts to reduce crime

NATCHEZ — Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong said Natchez had a 75% reduction in murders and a 25% reduction in other violent crimes in 2019.

Natchez had 12 murders in 2018 and three in 2019.

In terms of other violent crimes committed, 2019 proved to be a lot better than 2018 as well, according to crime statistics provided by the Natchez Police Department.

Armstrong revealed the information during a Thursday morning press conference in front of Natchez City Hall.

“The City of Natchez ended 2019 with some great results related to public safety,” Armstrong said. “As all of you know 2018 was a year that we all want to forget and wish it never happened when it comes to crime in Natchez and Adams County. But through the work and the efforts of a joint operation of county, city, state and federal officials we were able to make a huge difference.”

Last year, local law enforcement partnered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Mississippi Department of Corrections and several other agencies to implement project EJECT — a federal program designed to reduce violent crime, said U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst, who attended Thursday’s conference.

Project EJECT, which stands for Empower Justice, Expel Crime Together, was originally launched in Jackson in December 2017, Hurst said.

“In the first year that we worked Project EJECT in Jackson, we saw an overall reduction in violent crime by 7%,” Hurst said. “Because of the horrific year the City of Natchez had in 2018, with a violent crime rate significantly higher than the state average, we were more than happy to use our resources and time to come to Natchez and invest in this great city.”

Hurst said the program works through four components: prosecution, prevention, reentry and awareness.

Armstrong said that in 2019 only three murders and one attempted murder were recorded in Natchez as opposed to 12-recorded murders and three attempted murders in 2018. Of the three murders recorded this year, all of them concluded with an arrest, Armstrong said.

Hurst said federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials visited school functions and camps to talk to students and also hosted a reentry career fair to help those who’ve completed their sentences rejoin society.

In addition to Project EJECT, Armstrong said Project NOLA — a community-based crime camera system — was also initiated to deter criminal activity. Armstrong said 119 cameras were installed throughout the city and purchased through the Natchez Housing Authority as well as through public and private donations.

The police department and sheriff’s office also made internal changes to fight crime officials said.

Armstrong said police officers saw an increase in their salaries last year to help the department recruit and retain officers.

Vehicles were equipped with GPS systems and officers were equipped with body cameras to enhance officer safety and accountability, Armstrong said.

In November 2018, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Group HEAT Unit was tasked with helping reduce crime in the city and county by having two agents and a dual-purpose K9 patrol high crime areas and assist Natchez Adams County Regional Counterdrug Taskforce and the Natchez Police Department whenever needed, said Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten.

“We all have a common goal, and that is to do our best to eradicate crime in the City of Natchez and the County of Adams,” Patten said. “… What Project EJECT did for us also is have a ripple effect in the county. In 10 different categories, we had between a 10% and 100% drop (in crimes).”