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Jackson Under Fire - What's the Chief Doing to Stop the Violence?

By Keli McAlister
By kmcalister@wbbjtv.com

JACKSON, Tenn. - By numbers alone the City of Jackson appears to have a major issue with crime. Since 2010, the murder rate in Jackson has risen 550 percent. And, as of Aug. 31, the aggravated assault rate was up 137 percent.

Police Chief Gill Kendrick believes the perception is not the reality. "I don't think Jackson is unsafe," he insisted.

Another set of numbers show, in fact, the city is seeing less overall crime than when Chief Kendrick first took office in November of 2009. In 2009, there were 11,372 crimes reported in the city, followed by 10,744 in 2010 and 10,383 in 2011. As of August 31, there were 7,051 reported crimes in 2012.

However, within those same statistics the number of violent crimes like murders and aggravated assaults have risen significantly in 2011 and 2011. Research from the Jackson Police Department show there were 14 homicides in 2009, just two in 2010, six in 2011 and 11 in 2012 (as of Oct. 2) There were 389 aggravated assaults in 2009, 371 in 2010, 473 in 2011 and 509 in 2012 (as of Aug. 31).

"This is very concerning to us," Kendrick said. "That was the reason for our COMPSTAT process because it helped us focus on the crimes that were issues and were driving problems in Jackson."

COMPSTAT or Computer or Comparative Statistics is a practice implemented by Chief Kendrick in July of 2010. It involves weekly meetings of department leaders to talk about crime trends and tactics. But Kendrick says it is not these meetings and officers alone that will stop crime. "I don't think law enforcement is going to be the total panacea," he added.

Kendrick insists if more eyewitnesses will not come forward and those with information about crimes stay silent, cases will remain unsolved.

When asked what he is doing to strengthen the relationship between the department and citizens, he responded, "We get out with what we call Coffee with a Cop." He added, "That has been a tremendous program for us." But those results are hard to calculate.

Jacksonians who have fallen victim to crime, including homeowners whose houses have been shot into this summer with no arrests, they want to see action. Kendrick says he is delivering. "Basically we're moving resources in and around the areas where these events of this nature are occurring," he said. "We are trying to saturate those areas with law enforcement officers to have that visibility to deter."

The chief said he is also in the process of implementing a practice called "Problem Oriented Policing," accomplished through smart goals. "A smart goal for us would be to have every patrol officer in their area make x-number of citizen and business contacts within three, two or one month," he explained. Kendrick admits it is quite similar to community policing, which had been practiced in Jackson in the past. But his hope is that a slightly different approach will help change the public's perception and trust level in the police.

All be told, Kendrick admits he can be a bit idealistic in some of his approaches. But he said that is not the case when it comes to gang violence. So far this year, the deadly shooting inside Club Karma, the fatal shooting on Brianfield Drive and the beating death on Carolane Drive have all bee directly linked to street gangs. "Yes, we are doing things differently," he explained. "But I want to keep that as our surprise."

Critics might say the chief has even more secrets, including where and how he spends his time. Those tough questions are answered in our continuing special report, "Jackson Under Fire."