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‘Law And Order Will Win’: Governor Announces Jackson Crime Operation, Mayor On Board

Gov. Tate Reeves standing at a podium outside of a gas station. Officers and men in suits stand behind him.
Gov. Tate Reeves and representatives from several law-enforcement agencies announced “Operation Unified” in Jackson, Miss., on Feb. 13, 2024. The collaboration is a joint partnership to curb violent crime and drug trafficking in the capital city, organizers say. Photo by Imani Khayyam

JACKSON, Miss.—Mississippi’s capital city will see a “surge in state, local and federal law-enforcement resources,” Gov. Tate Reeves announced at a press conference in the capital city on Tuesday. But he and the others who were gathered in the parking lot of a now-closed Cracker Barrel restaurant on I-55 did not provide any specifics on how their surge strategy would actually lower violent crime.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba, Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens, Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell and representatives from both the Jackson Police Department and Capitol Police were there with Reeves to announce “Operation Unified,” which they described as a joint effort among law-enforcement agencies to flood the streets of Jackson with more police officers.

“Despite the vast positives that Jackson has to offer, there’s no doubt that, like many other cities around the country, we continue to grapple with a crime problem,” Reeves said. He did not mention crime and violence in surrounding areas in the capital-city region or how the state was involved with other local agencies.

The Mississippi Free Press asked Reeves if the new initiative included anything beyond more police in Jackson, and he said it would also include more prosecutors. In Hinds County, pre-trial detention—someone in jail without being proved guilty while awaiting trial—can last for years. One problem often blamed is too few prosecutorial resources.

Reeves mentioned no other violence-prevention initiative, but he did say that education is important. The governor has routinely been against the full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program through his career and has supported extra funds for teachers in often-better-funded schools with higher test scores.

‘You Don’t Run This City’

Commissioner Sean Tindell said the new initiative, which began a month ago in mid-January, means increased resources for the Hinds County District Attorney’s office to prosecute those charged with committing violent crimes and drug trafficking in the capital city. While JPD data showed a drop in homicides in Jackson in 2023, the city had more homicides per capita than any major city nationwide with 118 in 2023, WLBT reported on Jan. 8. That data doesn’t include whether any of those were justifiable homicides like self-defense.

“Our goal with this operation is clear: to go after the violent criminals responsible for perpetuating cycles of violence, holding them accountable for their actions and to bring justice to the victims and their families. Working together is not just important, it’s absolutely essential,” Tindell said.

Commissioner Sean Tindall speaks at a podium labeled with a golden state seal of Mississippi
Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said on Feb. 12, 2024, that under Operation Unified, law-enforcement agencies will work together to increase the number of police officers on the streets of Jackson to respond to violent crime and drug trafficking in Jackson, Miss. Photo by Imani Khayyam

The announcement comes less than a year after the Mississippi Legislature approved expanding the Capitol Police’s jurisdiction over Jackson’s Capitol Complex Improvement District. Reeves, who signed the controversial H.B. 1020 into law on April 21, 2023, spoke directly to those who may consider committing violent crime in Jackson.

“Your time here is over, you don’t run this city, and you’re not immune to the law,” Reeves announced to the targets of his new initiative. “We will not surrender our streets to you, and we will never rest until you are behind bars. Law and order will win the day here, and you will be brought to justice.”

Lumumba and Reeves have not always agreed on how to handle crime in the capital city, with the two clashing over H.B. 1020, which also created a state-appointed court system in Jackson to handle cases. But the mayor said Tuesday that he believes the new initiative will help make the citizens of Jackson feel safer. “We’re focusing more on our common ends and objectives than any differences we have,” Lumumba said.

Experts Warn Surges Can Worsen Crime

Since Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba first took office in 2017 on promises to make Jackson “the most radical city on the planet,” including around criminal-justice reform and policing, the Jackson Police Department has participated in several multi-agency policing surges, and none has actually lowered violent crime. In fact, the opposite was true with the most prominent surge effort.

In 2017, then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Michael Hurst worked with the City of Jackson to spearhead the controversial “Project Eject,” bringing dozens of special agents from state and federal law enforcement agencies into the city. But crime started rising the same month Project Eject kicked off in December 2017 to levels not seen in years in the capital city, including the city’s homicide rate.

Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba speaks at a podium labeled with a golden state seal of Mississippi
Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba ledged to residents that “our goal” with Operation Unified “will not be for them to feel police, but to feel protected because people want to be protected in their home” during a press conference on Feb. 13, 2024. Photo by Imani Khayyam

Crime experts, such as National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York Director David Kennedy, warned the Jackson Free Press then about the unlikelihood of the success of a “surge” effort. Operations like Project Eject, which used sweeps to make drug and gang arrests, can be disruptive and actually increase violent crime, criminologists warn. Police “surge” strategies, while often endorsed by groups like the National Rifle Association, tend to focus heavily on locking up street-level offenders with little attention to the source of the weapons or how to stop that flow, Kennedy told then-JFP Editor Donna Ladd. That focus can lead to racial disparities and increased distrust between police and Black and Brown communities.

Instead Kennedy and many other anti-violence experts, including a group funded by the Mississippi Legislature to study Jackson crime causes and solutions, call for direct engagement with those deemed likely to commit gun violence. That can mean offers of help or services for those at high risk of committing worse crime and who face significant prison time, as well as identifying and closing down illicit markets for guns—which can be far more effective than threats like “your time here is over, you don’t run this city.” Kennedy also warned that those trafficking the weapons don’t tend to be the young often-Black people who often get caught up in sweeps and surges.

Gov. Tate Reeves standing at a podium outside of a gas station. Officers and men in suits stand behind him.
“Law and order will win the day here, and you will be brought to justice,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said during the Operation Unified announcement on Feb. 13, 2024. Photo by Imani Khayyam

During Lumumba’s remarks on Operation Unified on Tuesday, he said that he considers law-enforcement just one tool to combat crime and said that the City will continue offering social services and trauma-informed care through its Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery so that the officials “not only respond to crimes but … become intelligent enough to stop them from happening in the first place.”

“I hope that, as we move forward, that we can pledge to the residents of Jackson that our goal will not be for them to feel policied but to feel protected because people want to be protected in their homes,” the mayor said.

Donna Ladd contributed to this report.

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