If you show up at one of Jackson’s four police precincts after 5 p.m., there’s a good chance that you might not find a police officer there.
Civilians answer phone calls at the precincts from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday but it can be hit or miss to find anyone at a precinct after business hours.
That doesn’t mean you should forget about reaching an officer if it’s necessary.
“When our citizens cannot make contact, all he or she has to do is call the 911 number and request an officer to meet at the precinct,” said Jackson Police Department Commander Abraham Thompson, who is head of major investigations.
You’ll find the largest number of officers at a precinct for roll call, which usually takes about 15 minutes, he said. Officers then disperse to patrol their beats.
“Police officers will be in and out of there day and night,” Thompson said. “Some supervisors will be there a little more than officers, answering complaints.”
Rather than sitting at a precinct, officers are out and about in the city, Thompson said. “Their priority is to help deter and combat crime,” he said.
So, what’s the value in having precincts in the city in addition to the downtown JPD headquarters?
Precincts offer a police presence in the community, provide officers a place where they can meet citizens and complete reports and serve as locations for community events, Thompson said.
Does it matter where a precinct is located when it comes to the safety of residents?
No matter the location of a precinct, officers spend most of their time patrolling and should be nearby at all times, said Virgi Lindsay, the city council member who represents Ward 7.
Ward 1 council member Ashby Foote believes a police precinct, which typically has numerous police cars parked near it, provides a valuable perception that officers are nearby.
“There may not be many officers in the precinct headquarters, but it does signal a police presence with all of the cars there,” he said.
Council member Aaron Banks of Ward 6 believes like Foote that precinct locations provide a visible presence for JPD. “One of the biggest deterrents to crime is visibility,” he said.
Foote is fighting to keep Precinct 4 at its current location at 5080 Parkway Drive in Colonial Mart Shopping Center, which is off of Old Canton Road, because residents in the area want it to remain there.
Jackson City Council members discussed earlier this month a possible move of Precinct 4 to the former Batte Furniture & Interiors location at 1010 E. Northside Drive.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba would like to buy the building and place the Tisdale Library, which has been closed due to mold and disrepair, there.
Foote has had numerous phone calls from Jackson residents who live near Precinct 4 and he’s read discussion on social media about how residents want Precinct 4 to remain where it is.
“They very much want and appreciate a police presence in the northeast Jackson area,” said Foote, who opposes the purchase of the Batte Furniture building unless the city sells some of the buildings it already owns.
Residents near Precinct 4 have reported incidents of car break-ins and that they often hear guns fired, and that has made citizens nervous, Foote said.
Precinct 4 stretches from East County Line Road in the north to Fortification Street in the south, is bordered by the railroad at North State Street to the west and the Pearl River to the east and includes some areas of the city where violent crime catches the media’s attention.
“There are a lot of different opinions about where a precinct office should be located,” Lindsay said. “Everybody wants it near them.”
The city doesn’t own the Precinct 4 location, Lumumba said, and the building where it is located needs repairs.
“They want us to sign a five-year lease and that building is not suitable for police officers in that area,” said JPD Chief James E. Davis.
The protection offered by officers assigned to Precinct 4 will not change if the precinct location changes, Davis said. “They won’t be losing any police services,” he said.
The Batte Furniture location would provide more convenient highway access for officers as they navigate all of Precinct 4, Lumumba said.
Council member Kenneth Stokes of Ward 3 is in favor of the Precinct 4 relocation to the Batte Furniture building because it would provide officers access to nearby Highland Village and the rest of the I-55 corridor, which is important for its economic impact.
Another plus for the Batte Furniture building is that it would offer a larger space for Precinct 4 to have community programs, Thompson said. The programs are on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Foote, however, remains unsold on the Batte Furniture location for Precinct 4.
“You have to go through at least one stop light to get onto the interstate,” he said. “It’s not easy to get out of the Northside Drive area.”
Should Precinct 4 move to the Batte Furniture building, Foote would like JPD to have a satellite location, something it does not currently have anywhere in the city, in the current Precinct 4 area. “We need to be creative in addressing the crime epidemic and police presence sends a signal,” he said.
Since 2016, Precinct 4 has occupied space at Colonial Mart, which was heralded as being more user friendly than the previous one in Fondren and being centrally-located. Until the move to Colonial Mart, Precinct 4 had been located at 3304 N. State St. in the Fondren neighborhood since 2002. Precinct 4 used a building on Old Canton Road before moving to Fondren.
Steve Baker, the property manager at Canton Mart Square shopping center, recalls how his wife’s uncle, the late Dr. Hugh G. “Doc” Ward, a Jackson veterinarian who expanded Canton Mart Square from Briarwood Animal Hospital where he practiced, led the way in raising funds and constructing the building for Precinct 4.
“The city owned the property across from Briarwood Wine and Spirits, which is part of Canton Mart Square, and Dr. Ward and some other members of the Exchange Club started working to raise money to build a precinct there,” he said. “It was a strong civic club and did a lot of really good things.
“We raised money by parking cars for the rodeo and other events at the Coliseum and selling Christmas trees at Parham Bridges Park,” he said. “Doc rounded up as many donations as he could.”
JPD outgrew the building that the Exchange Club constructed, and it was torn down in 2017 by local nonprofit Revitalize Mississippi free of charge, after being closed and in a state of disrepair for years.