By Michael Stewart / Executive Editor
The Meridian Star
Growing concern over recent shootings within the city of Meridian prompted a neighborhood watch meeting Saturday morning where city officials asked for residents' help to combat youth violence.
"Do we have a community problem? Absolutely," Meridian Mayor Cheri Barry said. "Can we fight it as a community? Absolutely."
Barry told a crowd of more than 60 gathered at the Meridian Activities Center that residents can help combat crime by remaining vigilant and reporting suspicious activity to police.
"What we need from you is we need your eyes and ears," Barry said.
According to the Uniform Crime Reporting Program compiled by the FBI, there have been seven homicides in Meridian this year. There have also been multiple incidents where bullets struck homes and cars after gunfire erupted on the streets.
Most recently, on Nov. 10, Terrianda Collins, 21, died from multiple gunshot wounds after he was shot outside a home in the 2100 block of 15th Avenue. Police are investigating that incident.
"With this latest situation, if you think we don't know what's going on and who is involved, you are wrong," Meridian Police Department Chief James Reed told meeting attendees. "We are going to solve that crime and we are going to solve it in grand fashion."
Reed said police are going to take their time and develop a solid case that will stand up in court before arrests are made.
Some residents at the meeting complained of delays in police response times and too few patrol officers cruising problem neighborhoods.
Al Willis, president of the 36th Avenue Neighborhood Watch, said the city needs to hire more police officers.
Bobby Smith, Meridian city councilman for Ward 5, said he feels the city does need more officers, but there isn't funding available in this year's budget, which has already been set.
"If the people want — if this community wants — more police officers, what do you do?" Willis asked. "Cut everything else please, and give us some more police officers."
Barry questioned if more officers would fix the problem.
"We cannot put police officers with machine guns on every corner of the city of Meridian," Barry said. "I'm not sure that 10 more police officers are going to make any more difference because the problems we have are gang-activity related."
Meridian resident Michael Riordan said after the meeting that cameras installed in trouble areas would be cheaper than the annual salary of one new police officer.
"How many cameras can you buy for $35,000?" Riordan asked.
Meridian resident Nathaniel Pringle said he would like to see more community policing, where officers get to know the residents in their beats.
Pringle also questioned why a police substation opened at Reese Courts Apartments, located a block from where Collins was killed, has not been manned.
Reed said police will begin working out of the substation on Monday and assured residents that steps are being made to address youth violence.
"I promise you, give us a few months and you will see a difference in our city," Reed said.
Something needs to be done, Meridian resident Louise Wright said.
"It's scary," Wright said of recent crimes. "It wasn't like this when I moved here in 1982. It has gotten to where I almost don't even want to go outside in the daytime."
One of the most effective means of combatting crime is through active neighborhood watches, said Meridian Police Department Capt. Michael "Wade" Johnson, who heads up the city's neighborhood watch programs.
"If you don't have but three people in your neighborhood watch, that is a start," Barry said.
Meridian residents interested in forming a neighborhood watch can e-mail Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.