Growing up in Meridian, Rev. Greg Moore remembers how his neighborhood used to be safe.
Walking down a street near the Wechsler School, he remembers patrol officers saying ‘hi’ and leaving his front door unlocked without the fear of being robbed.
Fast forward to 2019, and Moore said he no longer sees police in his neighborhood.
“There’s not a strong enough police presence in this area,” said Moore. who installed four cameras around his property to watch for suspicious activity.
Sometimes, he hears random gunshots, especially at night.
“We hear gunshots all the time,” Moore said. “It’s kind of hard to pinpoint where the shots are coming from.”
Moore isn’t alone in his concern about crime in Meridian. Around the city, residents over the past 10 months have experienced shootings, burglaries, theft and other types of crime.
The crimes, which vary by location, range from murders to people shooting into buildings or vehicles.
Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, there were reports of 991 shots fired in the city, with 11 ending in death. In October alone, there were 150 shots fired reported in the Meridian Police Department daily log.
When the report notes that shots were fired, it means those shots were reported, Meridian Police Chief Benny Dubose said. The report shows crimes that were reported to the police, and some of those could be duplications of more than one person hearing shots and reporting them.
Dubose said the police department has 50 patrol officers, which limits the frequency of patrols. Often, Dubose said, more officers are needed in areas where crime is high.
Dubose said when police get a call of shots fired, they try to send at least two officers to the scene. Based on what happens when they arrive, officers will ask for backup.
The typical response time is seven minutes or less, according to Dubose. If there is a situation between a call of a robbery or shots fired, police will respond to the shots fired called first, he said.
Police respond to shootings when they are reported, but often find no suspects or little evidence at the scene, he said. In some cases, people know who is responsible for the crime, but will not tell police, he said.
Dubose said that according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, there has been a decrease in property crime over the past several decades, but violent crime has been consistent. Overall, the crime rate is at its lowest since 1985, Dubose said.
Dubose said numbers from 2019 aren't yet available because the crime reports are compiled after each calendar year.
The chief said he understands the community's concern about crime, but emphasizes that residents play a role in keeping their neighborhoods safe.
"The community has to work with the police and police have to work with the community," Dubose said.
Most shootings aren’t random
Meridian Police Capt. John Griffith said most shootings in the city result from ongoing disputes, such as domestic disputes between two people who have an unresolved conflict or people arguing over drugs.
Griffith also noted that most shooting deaths in Meridian are not random.
The only recent murder that was not random was the September shooting death of Johnny Cullins, who was shot and killed at the Shell gas station near the Hampton Inn.
Cullins was not the intended target in the shooting.
“Some of these we get may not be intentional,” Griffith said. “But the majority of them are.”
Griffith said murders are also difficult to investigate because police don’t know when or where murder is going to occur.
“For your murders, you really can’t say where those are going to be at,” he said. “Those are crimes of opportunity.”
Angela and Michael Colburn, who live in the Tuxedo community, said they don’t feel safe in their own neighborhood.
While gunshots aren’t common, Angela Colburn says she has heard them at times.
“Thank goodness, no, but there have been times when I have been outside and I thought I have heard gunshots,” she said. “It would be across from the railroad tracks.”
Michael Colburn said he knows the police department is understaffed but said that’s not an excuse.
He and his wife want city officials and police to speak out about the crime issue, so residents are reassured. Angela Colburn also wants the community to become more involved in the fight against crime.
“I think we can do more,” she said. “We need more community involvement and from the city.”
Neighborhood Watch programs, which both Moore and the Colburn's are involved in, are one way police in Meridian are addressing crime.
The program encourages members of the community to work with law enforcement to fight crime.
MPD Lt. Rita Jack said the program has been around for the last 20 years, but a renewed interest in the program began last year.
There are 14 Neighborhood Watch programs in Meridian, with eight of them active. Jack said the program is set up so that people can provide tips anonymously without the fear of retaliation.
Moore, who started the Neighborhood Watch program in the Redline community, said he’s seen some progress since the watch was started.
But, he says, there’s more work to be done.
“We are trying to take our neighborhood back,” Moore said. “I’m not going to allow them to turn this neighborhood to a drug den.”
Even though it’s small, the Neighborhood Watch program is a step in the right direction, Moore said.
“The tools are there for us to help the police do their job,” he emphasized. “It’s just a matter of getting people together ... to do what is necessary to take back our neighborhood.”
Mayor Percy Bland said the city is working with U.S. Attorney Michael Hurst’s office to get violent criminals off the street through a program called Project EJECT.
Reports and studies on crime in Meridian will shape the implementation of a state-wide crim…
The effort was launched in Jackson two years ago, followed by Hattiesburg and Moss Point. Meridian, which was chosen because of its high crime rate, joined the program in February as the fourth site in the state.
Project EJECT allows some cases, such as parole violations involving firearm possession, to be transferred to federal court.
“These people are going to be charged at the federal level and do serious time,” Bland said. “That is why we take any acts of violence – especially with a gun – very seriously.”
Griffith said the police department has also shifted its strategy, looking at where officers are placed during a 24-hour window.
Officers are also tracking their crime numbers daily, he said.
Security cameras and LED lights have been installed at Highland Park, and the city plans to install more at Bonita Lakes and Northeast Park, he said.
But, Griffith noted, police still need help from the community to fight crime.
“The community has to be involved if they want us to be effective,” Griffith said.