Crime in Selma

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 8, 2004

Editor’s note: This week, The Selma Times-Journal presents ideas and opinions from the mayoral candidates on the increasing crime problem in Selma. The staff and management at the STJ hopes the following pieces will help you make an educated choice for mayor in the upcoming election.

Continue the progress

In his first four years, Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. says he has done several things that will help turn the tide and given another four years he will continue in that work.

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“My priority has been creating jobs and improving education and work force development opportunities for the citizens of Selma,” Perkins said.

“Clearly, we have been very successful in that area.

We just need to continue with that progress.

I know that more jobs and better informed citizens are key to our success, and that is why I have spent so much time working on those issues.”

One of the issues that has come up time and again is the number of police officers on the streets of Selma and the number of officers actually in the budget.

Perkins said that in his first three years, the police department budget was increased by $684.264.32, a 16 percent increase in the department’s budget.

The department had received a COPS grant for an additional 10 officers, but they had not been able to hire the additional help.

Instead of letting go of actual city employees, Perkins recommended and the council passed a budget that removed the money for the 10 empty slots.

“Clearly there was not reduction in the budget beyond the removal of vacant grant funded slots,” he said.

The city’s budget currently has slots for 59 sworn officers, however there are only 53 on the payroll.

Perkins offered a resolution last month saying that if the department can get back to 59 officers, then he will help find additional funding to get the department to 63 officers.

“I have been and still am in full support of the police and fire departments filling the vacancies it has in its budget,” Perkins said. ” In fact, public safety was exempt from all hiring freezes that were imposed during the past 4 years.

I have never interfered with the hiring of police officers and fire fighters.”

In response to the growing crime problem last year, Perkins and the city council approved a Town Hall Meeting on crime and a Crime Task Force. However, none of the task force’s recommendations have been accepted, yet.

“The Crime Task Force was appointed by the city council and mayor.

The city council appointed 10 members and I appointed five members,” Perkins said. “The Crime Task Force came back to the city with a set of recommendations.

The city council rejected all recommendations.

I am prepared to move, but I cannot not without city council full support.”

After the recent Broad Street Shootout and McDonald’s Shooting, Perkins introduced his “Mercy-No Mercy Strategy.” The strategy allowed people a chance to turn in illegal guns with no questions asked.

One gun was collected.

In the second half of the plan, Perkins would encourage law enforcement to bring the hammer down.

“The mercy-no mercy strategy is working.

Mercy was an opportunity for people to voluntarily lay down their illegal arms.

It gave families and churches an opportunity to assist with the appeal to ‘get right’ while there is still time.

Clearly most people did not take advantage of the opportunity,” Perkins said. “Now, you see the police officers aggressively enforcing the law.

It is up to the courts and DA to prosecute illegal gun crimes to fullest extent of the law.”

Perkins said the political season has affected the response of some people.

“I recognized the fact that we are in an election cycle, people may be reluctant to step out because of the politics.

Therefore, I was not surprised at the low response from the community. However, don’t forget that I started placing attention on the crime issue long before the election started and I have not allowed the fact that we are in an election hinder my passion about this issue,” Perkins said. “If I wanted to take the politically correct or safe route, I never would have forced this issue onto the table and most certainly I never would have continued the debate throughout the election.

To me, this is not about getting elected.

It is about saving lives.”

Backing the police

State Representative and mayoral candidate Yusef Salaam says a big portion of Selma’s crime problem is due to the number of officers on the streets.

“The criminal explosion can be tied into the man power deficit,” Salaam said. “For instance, I’m told on some nights in this city we have only four officers on duty. That kind of spread thin coverage simply cannot protect and secure the interests of the citizens of Selma.”

As a result, Salaam says, young officers are rushed into situations they may not be ready for.

“You have to rush these rookies into duties and responsibilities that normally they would not have to undertake,” Salaam said. “It is important to remember that not only have we lost a lot of officers but we have lost some of our most seasoned and experienced law enforcement people.”

If elected, Salaam’s first step would be to let law enforcement know the power of the mayor’s office is fully behind them.

“When the chief of police and others attend (law enforcement) recruitment fairs, I would accompany them and project to the officers in attendance that Selma is a place that loves law enforcement, that respects law enforcement and allow them to do their jobs,” Salaam said. “Because at most of these recruitment fairs, Selma is depicted as a joke.”

Salaam also mentioned battling gang activity in Selma.

“We have to recognize the root cause of gang activity,” Salaam said. “You have a group of young men coming together to express some kind of group loyalty and camaraderie, which is a noble virtue. However they channel these aspirations in a destructive manner. As mayor of this city, I would advocate community development strategies that would bring young men together in a context where they can express their desire to be loyal to friends, but at the same time participate in constructive outlets that are designed to build, not to destroy.”

However, Salaam says it is a misconception that most of the severe violence that happens in Selma is youth related.

“I think if you look at the facts, it is a myth that many of the murders have resulted from activities of young people,” Salaam said. “Many of these individuals are 21 and above. When you characterize the savage murder/mayhem in Selma as youth violence, to me, is a gross misrepresentation and an extremely false view in reality. The truth of the matter is we’ve had a law and order breakdown in this city.”

Salaam places some of the blame squarely on mayor James Perkins Jr.

“If the leading commander-in-chief of your law enforcement entity does not respect law enforcement and law and order, then that’s creating the kind of environment where a message can be sent to the criminal element of all ages that it’s open wild west season in Selma,” he said, ” and that forces of law and order should not be respected.”

Salaam sees the answer to reducing the crime problem in community development programs that use faith-based and economic improvements to raise Selma up.

“I think we have to see that crime is basically a moral problem, that’s under girded by economic variables,” Salaam said.

“Whatever strategy we adopt must be two-fold that addresses those aspects of community life that has resulted in a breakdown of values and morals while at the same time projecting a strategy that’s designed to change the economic conditions in these neighborhoods.”

Salaam advocates afternoon safe house for young people in every neighborhood in the city.

He would like parents, counselors and people of faith to work together to battle the moral and value problems.

He would also implement strategies to help the individuals be able to participate fully in the mainstream economy,

“We must have an economic development strategy where we land a major industrial proposal capable of employing some 800 people,” Salaam said. “The massive infusion would provide psychological hope and encourage brighter hope for the future of Selma.

Increase the police

As the self-proclaimed “man with the right direction,” mayoral candidate Glenn King wants the citizens of Selma to unite behind him and help battle the city’s growing crime problem.

“Selma residents want to feel safe in their homes,” King said. “Their security and safety is my priority.”

The first thing King would do, if elected, is divide the city up into seven precincts and put two officers in each precinct at all times.

“We need more cars in residential areas,” King said.

King, a local reverend and radio personality and owner, says another key is increasing the number of officers.

“We’re down 20 men already, from four and half years ago,” King said. “We lost some slots from the grant money and the mayor took some slots.”

The police department had 53 officers at the last official count for the Times-Journal.

They are currently budgeted to have 59 officers.

At one time, the COPS grant funded 71 officers in the budget, but the Times-Journal cannot confirm there were ever that many on staff.

“My office will work diligently with the community, business and religious leaders in order to restore a quality of life

and community spirit,” King said. “We must have cooperation of law enforcement officials, this will lead us in the right direction.”

King added that neighborhood watch programs can be a big asset in battling drugs in Selma.

“My office will implement a clean sweep on crime by using state laws to help rob neighborhoods of drug dealers and other criminal activity,” King said.

One of King’s focuses would be to attack criminals using rental houses as a base for their activity.

King said he would work to make it a law that once someone is convicted of a drug crime in one rental property, they would not be allowed to rent from the same landlord again, on that property or any other.

“This would make the landlords of well-known drug dealers to comply fully with the housing code and help keep drug dealers away from residential buildings,” King said. “Drug dealers would be ordered to remain more than 200 feet away from the buildings.”

King says another key to battling crime would be to increase the technology police have at their disposal.

King would give 100 percent of Selma’s police cars video technology and would increase the availability of lap top computers to the officers through grant funding.

“We would have frequent, random sting operations which includes city, county, state and federal law enforcement to bring in most wanted crime,” King said. “Many criminals would not want to be in Selma.”

King said he would use increased police presence to battle street violence and target at risk neighborhood using Department of Justice funding.

“To hire additional walking police and car patrols,” King said. “Also in my crime plan is training for local law enforcement on federal statutes.”

King says that getting the right officers in the right places can make a difference.

“Good police officers have an outstanding record and they’ll stand firm on crime.” King said. “They are duty-bound to protect the citizens in the right the direction.”

King would also advocate the elimination of bail requirements for those of murder.

“They wouldn’t be able to get out,” King said.

Finally, King would emphasize tough and more efficient work in battling crime. He said he would bring the police and community together to fight crime.

He would have town hall meetings, an open Web site and maintain a neighborhood watch program.

Education is the key

Mayoral candidate Gene Hisel, a local businessman of 26 years, knows about crime first hand.

His home was broken into and robbed. His grandchild was home at the time and confronted the robber. Though the child was fine, Hisel said he knows the fear having a stranger in the house can leave.

For that reason and many others, crime is a priorty in his campaign.

“This particular problem should be first and foremost because it involves the lives of our citizens. Crime is a symptom of other problems in our community,” Hisel said. “The socio-economic factors in our city contributes directly to crime.

The rich and the power circles get everything and the poor remain where they have always been, on the bottom.”

Hisel said problems in the law enforcement community have led to some of the issues Selma faces with crime.

“When our law enforcement is distracted by outside confusion, not only is their morale compromised, but they are encouraged to protect their jobs more than the public,” Hisel said.

One focus to slowing crime is increasing the number of police on the street.

“Police presence is very important to solving the high crime problem we have in our city,” Hisel said. “If the ideal circumstances were present, possibly 60 police officers would suffice, however, we

do not have ideal circumstances.

During this time of high crime we must take drastic measures to protect our public,

More law enforcement manpower must be used to turn back the tide of increasing crime in our city.”

Hisel said in dealing with the crime problem it is important to remember the causes for the problem.

“Their behavior is brought about by many more factors than just the fact that they are in possession of a weapon,” Hisel said. “They feel the gun is the power and the bullet is the solution.”

Hisel said simply punishing caught criminals won’t solve the problem, as mayor he would work to help change the root cause of the crimes.

“When a feeling of helplessness prevails in our community that there is no alternative, such as employment, to satisfy the family needs, one is prone to revert to crime as a means of financial help,” Hisel said. “People of crime do not intend to hurt people in the commission of a crime, but they are caught up in a situation, by their own decision, to chose the path of least resistance.”

Education is part of the key to the solution, according to Hisel.

“We must not only educate our people so as to insure that they are ready for the employment world,” Hisel said. We must insure that the atmosphere in our educational system is that of peace and not controversy, which drives youths to think that the streets are more advantageous to their well being.”

However, even though the causes can be understood, Hisel said that people who cross the line must be punished.

“The commission of crime by the people today has been manifest in their personalities and character and must be dealt with,” he said.