Cuffing crime

McComb Police Chief Garland Ward speaks during a town hall meeting at the Martin Luther King Center on Monday night, where residents and officials discussed crime prevention options.

A meet-and-greet held Monday night for McComb’s new police chief evolved into a discussion about rising crime in the city and possible solutions.

City officials handed out masks, which were mandatory for attendees, and provided hand sanitizer and spaced out chairs to promote social distancing at the forum at the Martin Luther King Center.

Police Chief Garland Ward introduced himself, noting that he was born and raised in McComb and became a Jackson police officer, later being promoted to investigator, then moving to Vicksburg. He then spent time in Afghanistan training officers for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Once he returned to the States, he started working as an investigator with the Mississippi Attorney General’s office.

Ward said he wants the department to offer training for residents to give them insight about how the police department operates and give them a better understanding of the department and its officers. He also said the department plans to start a mentoring program.

He said he wants to focus on community policing and feel it will help the city, which is hurting from high property theft and shootings.

“We have to get out of our cars, introduce ourselves and have conversations with people,” Ward said. “We have to work, we have to be proactive, and we have to police.”

Mayor Quordiniah Lockley opened the discussion by noting that the purpose of the meeting was not to point fingers but to talk about possible solutions to crime.

“It is easy to criticize, but it is even harder to come up with a solution,” he said. “If we had 100 police officers out there, we couldn’t stop the shooting ... we could not stop the break-ins or the robberies because they can only solve a crime when you get involved.”

Many people suggested adding security cameras or more patrol officers in high-crime areas, while others suggested closing clubs on Summit Street and introducing gun buy-back programs.

Pike County sheriff’s deputy Dwight Lee emphasized the importance of police presence as a crime prevention tool, and Ward agreed.

The discussion comes at the confluence of a police shortage and an increase in gun violence.

The department just hired three officers, still leaving it nine short, and the city board was expected to hire two more on Tuesday night.

Multiple residents argued that it is not the police department’s fault that the city has high crime, particularly among juveniles, but instead pointed to parents and home environments.

The Rev. Kelvin Williams said children need positive outlets, and multiple pastors in the meeting said they would like to avail themselves to youths who need mentors.

Chris Williams, who said he is a former drug dealer, said there is a disconnect between those committing crimes and law-abiding citizens.

“I got involved with using drugs and selling drugs, so my life went from here to here,” Williams said, gesturing his hand from up to down. “What I see going on in a lot of the communities is that those still in the streets are still not able to communicate with the politicians and those that have been there. They don’t feel like we understand where they are coming from.”

Darrick Martin, the co-owner of the M&P Daiquiri shop on Summit Street, where a recent fatal shooting occurred after hours in the parking lot of the business, said closing his club would not solve the crime problem. Instead, he said he would like to see more police patrol.

“I can only attempt to control what happens in my club,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have a business, too. We didn’t create the problem. The problem started at home.”

Another recurring topic involved the reporting of crime. Many said McComb is small enough that someone must to know who’s behind illegal activity.

Lockley said the police department has a Crimestoppers tip line that provides anonymity. He ended the meeting by saying that this is just the beginning of the dialogue between city officials and residents, noting that he plans to have town hall meetings at least quarterly.

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