GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) – You want to believe your children are safe. Yet last week, Gulfport arrested 41 juveniles, including one child who was taken into custody at school for marijuana possession.
You want to believe your homes are safe. Yet last week, 28 Gulfport residents had their cars broken into, or stolen.
You want to believe your neighborhoods are safe. Yet last week, gang graffiti was spotted on the wall of a Gulfport community center.
You want to believe Gulfport is a drug free city. Yet last week, Gulfport narcotics officers had to launch "Operation Cold Treatment" to nab known meth makers before they allegedly produced the illegal drug.
"Can you declare Martial Law for about a week," Deputy Chief Leonard Papania jokingly asked the city's mayor.
That comment came on Wednesday morning during the Gulfport Police Department's weekly GAPS briefing. Mayor George Schloegel invited me to the November 18 GAPS presentation, so I could get a better idea of how the city and its police officers were trying to build a safer Gulfport.
What I witnessed were supervisors from each division in the police department using eye opening crime statistics from the previous week to draw up a law enforcement blueprint for the upcoming week.
GAPS stands for Gulfport Alternative Policing Strategy. Every Wednesday, the police department's brass, and its division heads hold a 90 minute meeting. The discussions they have during this briefing formulate a crime fighting plan for the next seven days.
The briefing started at 8:15. All 34 managers with the Gulfport Police Department were required to be there. They sat in a classroom, and analyzed every crime committed in the city the previous week.
"This is accountability at all levels," Chief Alan Weatherford explained. "Communications at all levels within the department. We actually solve crimes in these meetings."
The car thefts sparked the most discussion that morning, because that stat showed the biggest spike. In a 45 day period, three dozen people south of I-10 reported car burglaries, or car thefts. And in 30 of those instances, police noted the break-ins were because the cars were unlocked.
"You could probably attribute most of these to the same person," Capt. Danny Holloway said.
That suspect, other officers said, was arrested for one of the eight car thefts the previous week. But he had already bonded out of jail.
"Let's get him off bond," Chief Weatherford barked out from the back of the room, ordering his team to go to court, get the suspect's bond revoked, and get him off the streets.
The goal of GAPS is to enable police to identify established and emerging crime locations and crime trends. That way, officers can attack problems before they get out of hand.
Is it working?
Chief Weatherford said in the three years since he started the weekly GAPS meetings, calls for service are up by nearly 20,000. But crime is about the same. To Weatherford, that shows "citizens are getting involved" in making their neighborhoods safer.
"We have impacted crime," the chief said.
The 90 minute meeting I attended ended 15 minutes late. As officers began to leave, Chief Weatherford looked around the room, and proudly said, "Thank you all for a job well done."
The officers had their marching orders for the next seven days. The 34 police department managers, and the other 160 sworn officers who patrol Gulfport's streets, had fine tuned their plan to make sure your children are safe, your homes are safe, your neighborhoods are safe, and the city of Gulfport is a drug-free community.