Gulfport PD study: Violent crime down, more officers still needed

By Krystal Allan - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Overall, the news was good for the Gulfport Police Department. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) revealed the results of a six month study Thursday afternoon.

From 2004 to 2008, violent crime has dropped by 25 percent. Drunk driving and drug offenses actually increased by seven percent. But, IACP researchers say that increase is good; it shows police are arresting more offenders.

"That's just a direct result of what the men and women of the Gulfport Police Department are doing on the job," Gulfport Police Chief Alan Weatherford said.

The department also got high marks for its community outreach efforts, but Chief Weatherford said the city has room for improvement.

"I'd like to have more reserve officers. I've been doing more recruiting on the reserve side," Weatherford said.

There were some areas that the study showed the department needed to re-evaluate, among them, putting more officers on the streets to improve response times.

"That's certainly something we've looked at. But you know, for the last three years and shortly after Katrina, we were 26 officers down," Weatherford said.

Now, all but six spots are filled. Recruiting continues to be a challenge as the department competes with other agencies and deals with budget shortfalls.

"The biggest thing we're going to do is try to work on the budget and keep this police force funded at the level it is now," says Rusty Walker, Ward 4 councilman-elect.

The study suggested some ways in which the department could use its resources more efficiently.  It presented the idea of re-assigning officers from school crosswalks and dispatch, and instead hire civilians, at cheaper rates, to do those jobs.

"It's not something that needs to be done overnight or even in the next year, but it gives us something to go by for the future."

Chief Weatherford calls it a roadmap to the future, one he hopes will direct the department on a much smoother route as it pushes forward.

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