While a recent survey shows there is a great concern about crime in Clarksdale, there were few members of the public in attendance at Thursday’s forum where a plan guiding the city’s police department for the next five years was unveiled.
There were about a dozen members of the public present at the forum held at the Clarksdale Civic Auditorium. They were outnumbered by city and police officials, as well as members of the media.
The low number was similar to those found during meetings held in each of the city’s four wards during late January. Oftentimes, the number in attendance was around 20 people, who filled out questionnaires and voiced their concerns over crime in Clarksdale and the work done by the city’s police department.
One of the survey highlights showed respondents marked “to great extent” when asked about their concern for crime in Clarksdale. It also revealed that respondents generally felt safe in their home and community and had no fear in reporting crime.
Clarksdale Police Chief Sandra Williams said she is hearing positive feedback from the community, as a whole, on the direction in which the CPD is headed now, which includes an emphasis on community policing.
“Police officers are being more visible in the community, in the downtown area,” she said.
The survey also revealed that respondents were most concerned about gun violence, gang activity, and residential burglaries and theft. Ranking low on the survey of least concerned items were prostitution and sexual assault.
According to the survey, the respondents felt that crime has increased in Clarksdale in the past 12 months, but data provided by the Clarksdale Police Department shows that over the last five years a downward trend in the number of residential, commercial and auto burglaries.
However, Mac Crank, who has headed up the project for the city of Clarksdale, said the city has a much higher crime rate than the rest of Mississippi. Clarksdale’s state crime index is 103, meaning only three municipalities (Jackson, Itta Bena and Vicksburg) have more crime per capita than Clarksdale.
“We have room for improvement,” Crank said.
And it’s his hope that community input can be part of the strategic plan to help serve the citizens’ needs and improve customer service, while also addressing workplace issues within the Clarksdale Police Department.
Some of the gripes reported in the survey were that there are problems getting incident reports; calls are not often returned in a timely manner, if at all; not enough police presence in neighborhoods; officers’ interpersonal skills need improvement; officers seem disinterested taking information; and there’s not enough officers to effectively cover the city.
“All of the concerns that are on that list are things that we have been working on within the police department,” Williams said. “I feel like, ‘Wow, we just hit it on the nail.’”
She said the city is currently looking to add five more police officers to its force. She said there are currently 28 applicants that will be undergoing a physical agility test on Saturday, April 13.
“Hopefully, we’re going to be able to get five good officers out of that 28,” Williams said. The five additional officers would boost the CPD’s number of police officers to 43.
Assisting in the development of the strategic plan were five members of the community, who have been holding weekly meetings to go over the responses to the survey and develop the plan. The members of the committee are Brenda Outlaw, Jim Schnadelbach, Joe Alderson, Lewis Wilkins and Lela Keys.
In addition to the citizens committee, Williams and her assistant police chiefs – Robbie Linley, Fernando Harris and Vincent Ramirez Jr. – will also be part of the project and have a say in what the plan looks like when it’s completed.
“We’re going to use this report as our guide to move the police department forward,” Williams said. “This will not be filed away. What people have to say is very important.”
Crank believes the plan will be finalized soon, printed and the final booklet will be available and distributed to the community in May.
Espy praised the cooperative spirit he’s received from the four city commissioners – Ken Murphey, Bo Plunk, Ed Seals and Willie Turner, Jr. Murphey, Seals and Turner all attended Thursday’s forum.
“All five of us have stepped up together to make sure that we tag team on certain issues,” Espy said, pointing to Turner’s idea to place the city’s first police substation in the Gooden Estates apartment complex as an example of that effort.
“The good people in the community said, ‘We love it.’ The bad people said, ‘You’re trying to trap us.’ But guess what started to happen with the bad people? They started to move out. And that’s what we want the bad people to do – get out of Clarksdale,” the mayor said.
And while that does create a negative with crime moving out the city into the outlying areas of Coahoma County, and he has no wish to make the sheriff’s job harder, Espy said it is his job to keep the citizens of Clarksdale safe.
“That’s our top priority,” he said, adding that city officials are working “tirelessly, day and night” to make Clarksdale safer for its citizens.
“I know, for a fact, that we don’t have it all covered, but at the end of the day, we are doing our very best,” Espy said.