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State Auditor: Jackson’s crime problem should concern every taxpayer in Mississippi

Published: May. 9, 2022 at 10:27 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Last weekend’s deadly shooting at the Mississippi Mudbug festival is still weighing heavy on the minds of elected officials.

Monday, State Auditor Shad White spoke out after recommending the event as a fun activity for his wife and kids.

“Thankfully, my wife did not go and did not take our two girls, but in reflecting on that, I can only imagine the grief and the guilt that I would feel if I had told my wife to go to this event, she had taken our kids there, and somebody had gotten hurt,” White said.

The auditor said it was a very personal wake-up call that there is a cost to the Capital City’s crime problem.

“When you see a big family-friendly event like this get turned into something that is horrific, it shows that [Mississippi] is in danger of losing its biggest magnet for skilled workers,” he said.

What White is referring to is a recent report from the State Auditor’s Office that shows 30% of those who graduate from a Mississippi Public University start their career in Hinds County. The second-highest county is Harrison, at 6%.

Therefore, White fears crime in the Capital City will have long-term impacts on the entire state.

“If you look around the country, Georgia is doing well because Atlanta is doing well, and Tennessee is doing well because Nashville is doing well. Mississippi cannot do well unless Jackson also does well,” he said.

To show the severity of this issue, White points to the CDC’s report on homicide mortality by state.

Looking at the last three years, Mississippi tops the list for having the highest death rate in 2020, 2019, and 2018.

The state auditor said there’s three main contributing factors.

The first is an epidemic of fatherlessness in the state.

“What we know just based on a mountain of social science studies is that when children grow up without a father and without the discipline that a father imposes, they have long-term, bad effects as a result of that,” he said. “They’re more likely to go to prison, more likely to commit a crime, less likely to graduate from high school, and less likely to graduate from college.”

The second is what many call the “catch and release” program, referring to people who commit small crimes, get out of prison, and then commit violent crimes.

“A lot of these incidents around town involve people who have committed some sort of crime, have been put in prison and then been let out. Then, they come back out perpetuate more violence on the people who have been victim to this,” White said. “That’s another big problem, and we’ve got to figure out how to solve that in the city of Jackson.”

Lastly, the third factor is the “Ferguson effect.”

“The Ferguson effect is something that researchers noticed after the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri,” White said. “What they saw was that in an era where you defund the police or you badmouth police, the police are forced to withdraw from high crime areas or from high poverty areas. Then, poverty and crime get worse in those areas.”

White said the solution is simple: more boots on the ground.

“We’ve got some great law enforcement officers here through the state of Mississippi, but my fear is that we don’t have enough of them, we don’t appreciate them enough, and we don’t pay them enough,” he said. “If we fix some of those things, I think you would see crime be deterred in some of those neighborhoods that have been plagued by this problem for a long, long time.”

The state auditor said one of the next major projects for his office is compiling a report that shows the direct dollar cost to taxpayers of a homicide in Mississippi and the corresponding economic fall off that follows.

“I think it’s my job as State Auditor to help quantify for the taxpayers the cost of some of these big societal issues,” White said. “[Crime] is not just a problem in Jackson. It’s a problem for all the taxpayers in the state, and we need to think about what we’re willing to do to solve that problem.”

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