Thursday, May 12, 2011
Crime focus of talks
By SUE WATSON
A recent town hall meeting to talk about crime problems in Holly Springs was curtailed somewhat by encroaching thunderstorms, but suggestions and comments were plentiful.
Mayor Andre’ DeBerry prefaced the discussion by saying, “A community is the sum of its parts. So, police, the court, prosecutors, the judge, individuals and government collectively as individuals are part of the process.”
The mayor suggested, “establishing neighborhood watches all over the city to send the message to the community and to criminals that we are addressing it.”
“We can’t be everywhere at the same time,” he said.
But two homicides, directly related to after-hours activities in the city, brings up the issue of banning bars and grills, he said.
“I think this is a focal point of crimes,” DeBerry said.
He suggested police manpower could be deployed in a fashion to put more patrols on the streets on Wednesdays through Saturdays.
“The other thing we’ve got to look at is our collective being and shared responsibility on the part of individuals and businesses,” he said.
It is not feasible to have police presence at a business around the clock, he said.
“We do not want to leave here without a plan of action,” he said. “All of us have skin in this game. We have children, grandchildren and we are concerned about their safety, our safety, and the safety of our fellow man.”
Chief Robert Pearson answered the question about the number of uniformed officers. There are 19, with the budget to have 21, he said.
Judge Aaron Brown asked about the ratio of law officers to the population and said perhaps the city needs more officers. DeBerry said the city’s budget is $7.4 million and the police department accounts for just under one-third of that budget, much for costs other than officer pay.
The entry level salary of police officers has increased. But the city competes with the metropolitian areas for recruitment and for retention of officers, he said.
Grace Bonds recalled living in the Woodward Avenue area and said Rankin Circle is feared and that adding more low-income housing in the Woodward Avenue area is “asking for that much more crime coming into the area.”
At this juncture, people heard loud thunder rolls and began leaving the meeting.
David Hollis, a resident on Craft Street, said he sees lots of officers doing good work, but also there are patrol cars parked on the street without radar.
“Can we institute a model like in Rossville and Germantown, Tenn., to keep garbage off the street?” he asked. “Let’s put our foot down on their necks and make them stay home or out of the city.”
He said officers can check vehicles for drugs when they have a reason to stop a vehicle.
Lisa Liddy asked if the open container law could be enforced.
“Is there a curfew?” she asked. “Could we enforce a curfew on weekends? Is there a loitering ordinance on the books to keep folks from hanging out on city streets drinking?”
DeBerry said people cannot be arrested for being on public streets. He said lighting could be improved. Surveilance cameras he is not in favor of, he said.
Liddy said a person who knows they are being watched will behave.
“I do not see police patrol on the square,” she said.
Edward Moses called for better pay and better training for quality policing.
Former police officer Bill Hollowell said years ago, before the 1970s, crime was not tolerated. Stabbings and shootings shot up in the late ’70s when police stopped unannounced searches in joints, he said.
Back then there were consent to searches posted in bars and joints and police would go in unannounced en masse and confiscate arms, he said.
“The nature of law enforcement has changed,” he said. “I guarantee if you went in there en masse, you will leave with weapons in tow. After people adapt, they will start leaving their weapons at home.”
The city also had an ordinance against public drunkenness .
“We also took drunks out and arrested them,” he said. “We all know the clubs where people carry weapons and a consent to search would settle this.”
Hollowell said anyone can see a drug deal going down on the square anytime.
“You have to have a law in place saying don’t do drugs or be disorderly in Holly Springs,” he said. “We got a handle on shootings and cuttings and stabbings (when he was an officer).”
Charles Terry said the police department needs more funding.
“For a town this size, we have had four homicides in three months and increased armed robberies,” he said.
Deidra Autry said young people are concerned for their safety. She felt police should be able to speak to youth about morals.
“We do need to find a way to say, ‘pull up your pants,’ ” she said.
She wanted an ordinance to the effect.
Tim Liddy said he believes the community has become too tolerant. Opening doors for these little things gives them courage “to do bigger stuff,” he said. There needs to be more officers from the local community, those who have a connection to the city, he said. He said kids know where they can get alcohol. He suggested an overall tightening of the rules, including speed limit enforcement to send the message the city will not tolerate illegal behaviors.
Officer Michael Perkins, an 11-year veteran with the city, said there is too much turnover of officers. One other officer has three years and the rest about two years experience, he said.
“My issue is losing officers,” he said. “Times have changed. Ten years ago, you could tell folks to move on and they would. Now I have to call for back-up for crowd control at wrecks. That puts us in a position - high turnover. You don’t know how a two-year officer will react.”
Perkins also discussed deplorable salaries.
DeBerry asked if the community is willing to increase taxes to get a better-paid police force.
Officer Grant Glover, a city policeman since 2001, has served as a field training officer since 2003. He said he trains rookies then they go elsewhere and start out making $10,000 a year more than local officers do.
“I’ve done that seven or eight years and that is very hurtful,” he said.
DeBerry said each year he has recommended raises but could not get aldermen to approve them because of the budget situation.
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