The original item was published from June 2, 2021 1:16 PM to July 6, 2021 9:42 AM
It’s election season in Southaven and one of the cheapest, oldest, and weakest campaign strategies ever is to alarm citizens with misleading crime statistics. I know the people of Southaven have seen this before and are wise to this, but I’ve been asked by some of our citizens to put the facts out for everyone.
The percentages stated by a political candidate regarding increases in crime numbers are simply false. This is one of two things, either the candidate is ignorant to FBI crime statistical reporting procedures or is intentionally trying to mislead and alarm people. Both are irresponsible and disturbing for someone who wants to earn the people’s trust. In 2019, the FBI changed how they account for crime reporting. They started using a system called the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). In previous years, when an arrest was made and the criminal had been convicted of breaking multiple laws (common occurrence), they counted it as one crime per incident (most severe). In 2019, the NIBRS system counts all. The FBI has indicated on reports that the 2019 statistics are not accurately comparable to previous years because of this change.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, fighting crime and keeping our citizens safe in Southaven is our foremost function and, of course, we have more crime than other local Mississippi cities because we are the largest city in North Mississippi and have the most commerce. We’ve had tremendous economic growth and our population has grown approximately 25% just in the last 8 years. The proximity to Memphis also creates challenges on its own, although all of our crime does not come from Memphis as some would have you believe. Specifically, Southaven’s population is 43.75% higher than the next largest city in Desoto County (Olive Branch) (55,718/38,761 per last U.S. Census) and our sales tax revenue is on pace to break our own record set in 2019 of $15,148,749 this year, projected to top $16 million. No other city in North Mississippi is near this number. Southaven is also the largest city in Mississippi ranked in the top ten of lowest crime indexes (7th). I will attach the real detailed numbers for all crimes in Southaven for the last decade. You can look through all years back to 2010 and will see that there are fluctuations, but the numbers show a general flat line. Our Police have done an incredible job controlling crime amid these challenges.
Now, let’s look at real FBI data for 2019 which is the last year their numbers have been finalized. The crime index is the rate of crimes per 100,000 residents. These are cities either comparable in population to Southaven or showing the perspective of performance in relation to larger cities and the U.S., aggregately. Total crime indexes are as follows:
Southaven – 209.7
Olive Branch – 219.8
Tupelo - 334
Gulfport – 350
Hattiesburg – 198.02
Biloxi – 322.87
Horn Lake – 169.9
Hernando – 158.3
Jackson – 853.18
Memphis – 1,943.19
West Memphis, AR – 823.6
Collierville, TN – 162.79
United States – 211
When this data is further filtered to violent crimes, Southaven is significantly lower than comparatively-sized Mississippi cities and the U.S., aggregately. Southaven’s violent crime index is 165.1 in comparison to the national index of 178.6. (*Specific cities not named for accuracy because most current year’s data not available for all)
Again, we have our challenges in Southaven, but are continuously improving our strategies and fighting crime daily. One of the biggest challenges that all cities in America face right now is recruiting and retaining quality officers. For obvious reasons with what has happened in our country in recent years, fewer people are choosing this career. This is not only a Southaven problem, but a serious national problem. Until this year and for the last four years, we have had vacant officer positions that we couldn’t fill. Our Police Chief and his staff have made adjustments helping us make positive progress with this challenge. In 2021, we have added new positions and have an aggressive 3-year expansion plan. Our Board of Aldermen and I have made the financial decisions in past years to prepare us for this investment in our future. Our annual Police budget is the highest of all 11 City departments at $13,705,700 and our total allocation for public safety is 55.77% of the City’s entire General Fund ($28,758,830/$51,563,000).
Furthermore, the solution to crime challenges is not confined to just adding more officers in today’s world. Our Board and I have allocated funding to equip our Police with the best-of-the-best equipment available. Also, while I’m not going to share the playbook publicly for the bad guys, I can also tell you that we’ve invested in the most modern technology to protect our officers and make us as efficient as possible. If you think you see more blue lights and hear more sirens, it’s not necessarily an indicator of more crime, but instead that we can find the criminals faster than ever before.
Finally, in recap, we know we face challenges with crime and will continue to improve our strategies every year moving forward. However, the facts show that we have one of the very best Police departments anywhere, evidenced by the fact that we are rated the 7th safest city in Mississippi and the largest of the top ten safest cities in our state, even with continued economic and population growth.