The Jackson Police Department has 290 sworn officers, according to Jackson City Council member Ashby Foote of Ward 1.
“That’s 110 officers short of where it should be,” said Foote, who said JPD Chief James Davis confirmed the number. “It should be around 400. That’s where it should be to provide the level of police protection with beats fully staffed around the clock.”
A police force with just 290 officers, some of whom work desk jobs and do not patrol beats throughout the city, means it is difficult for JPD to be as responsive as it should be, Foote said. “That’s spreading it real thin,” he said.
Davis said during a meeting last month to address crime in Belhaven that JPD was once short 100 officers but now lacks 67 officers. He did not provide any other data about staffing at JPD.
The Ridgeland Police Department, which has less area to patrol than JPD, has an allocation for 72 sworn police officers but just 66 sworn officers are on the job due to coronavirus adjustments and the fiscal year 2022 budget, said John Neal, chief of the Ridgeland Police Department.
The decrease in funded positions does not affect the number of officers on the streets, he said, noting that several support “specialty” positions in the warrants, traffic and other divisions have not been filled because those would need to be staff from the patrol division.
The Ridgeland Police Department is also hiring officers.
Davis said JPD had five police recruit classes in the last year and that resulted in new hires.
Hiring recruits who have completed a police academy is good, but it hardly makes a dent in increasing the number of officers, Foote said.
Retaining officers is just as important as hiring new ones, he said. “When you lose a 20-year veteran officer, you lose a lot of institutional knowledge,” he said.
To help retain officers, the city council voted in September to use more than $5.7 million from the $21 million the city has in hand from the American Rescue Plan Act for premium pay for veteran police officers, firefighters and dispatchers.
That will increase pay to $45,000 for police corporals and Jackson Fire Department lieutenants and to $48,000 for police sergeants and JFD captains. The funds will raise pay for a dispatcher to $15 an hour.
Davis has been reluctant to say how many officers are on the force.
In October, the Northside Sun asked Davis for the number of JPD police officers during a face-to-face conversation after a McLeod neighborhood meeting and he wouldn’t even give a ballpark number. Davis said he was unable to provide a number because he was unsure and did not want to provide the wrong number.
Earlier this month, Davis suggested the Northside Sun file a public records request after the Sun emailed the city of Jackson spokesperson Ashley H. McLaughlin and asked how many officers are on the force.
The Sun filed a public records request on Nov. 3 with the city of Jackson seeking the total number of JPD employees, the total number of police officers on beats in all precincts in the city and the total number of police officers on beats in Precinct 4 and Precinct 2 and is waiting for a response.
Residents could soon have the opportunity to ask questions about law enforcement in the city for themselves.
City Council member Aaron B. Banks of Ward 6, who chairs the city council’s law enforcement ad hoc committee, and Foote, vice chair of the committee, plan to schedule a town hall meeting in the next few weeks so residents can get answers to questions they may have.
“The main thing is to let the public ask the questions,” Foote said. “I think their voices need to be heard.”
Jackson, like many cities across the country, has experienced an increase in crime and violence since the global coronavirus pandemic. Many blame the increase on lack of police officers on the street, juveniles with time on their hands and homes that lack adults.
Homicides in the U.S. in 2020 increased nearly 30 percent over the previous year, the largest one-year jump since the FBI began keeping records, according to statistics released in September by the FBI.
The data showed that homicides and non-negligent manslaughters rose about 29.4 percent to 21,570, an increase of 4,901 over 2019, the data shows. It is the highest estimated total since the 1990s when homicides stayed above 23,000 a year due to drug wars in many places in the U.S.
Sun Staff Writer Olivia Mars contributed to this story.