String of shootings in Columbus neighborhood drive concerned citizens to call on city leaders to make 10 specific changes by month’s end

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COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Public outcry over violent crime in Columbus is building after a string of recent shootings have residents afraid for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

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“Our block of 7th Street was in the path of a violent, loud, bullet-filled car chase between two vehicles,” said Columbus resident Megan Westby. “An officer simply drove down 7th street and did not even stop to investigate.”

That’s how Westby described the shooting near her home in the 400 block of 7th Street South that has left her and others like her both shaken and outraged.

On February 19th, Columbus Police say suspects in two vehicles got into a shootout with each other in the Southside neighborhood. Police Chief Fred Shelton says two officers got to the scene at 5:59 p.m. and stayed there as long as necessary.

“We sent officers out there and we was on-scene till 6:16 (p.m.),” Chief Shelton said. “So we were there for over 15-20 minutes gathering up evidence.”

Days later, another 7th Street shooting four blocks away sent four people to the hospital.

Tuesday night, a group of concerned citizens spoke out during the Columbus City Council meeting.

“We really needed some answers to move this needle forward. And having attended the crime prevention task force meeting last Thursday, we heard over and over again that this has to be a collaborative effort,” said Columbus resident Julie Parker.

Parker, a Mississippi State professor, presented a list of 10 requests on behalf of the group concerning long-term and short-term actions she and the others would like to see city leaders take.

City council members say most of the demands are reasonable and many of them are doable in the requested time frame.

“To know the ratio of citizens of Columbus to CPD officers,” Ward 4 Councilman Pierre Beard offered as an example. “Well, we just did a census recently, so we have detailed numbers on the amount of citizens that are in Columbus.”

Here is the full list of requests:

“By the end of the week (3/5/21) we request the following: 

  1.     Information regarding the forensics of the bullet casings and what stage the investigation is in regards to the 7th Street South shootout that occurred on 2/19/21. Is there evidence that these recent shootings are connected?
  2.     Extra policing in hot spot areas heavy in criminal activity and more patrol in our Southside residential neighborhood
  3.     To know the ratio of citizens of Columbus to CPD Officers. Are all the shifts completely staffed?
  4.     Better response when we report criminal activity. We want responsiveness from the CPD – transparency and admission to the public regarding major incidences such as this.

  Within 30 days (3/31/21) we request the following:

5.   A proposal with estimated placement of surveillance cameras for specific areas with heightened criminal activity. 

6.   A proposal for more street lights or brighter light replacement in problematic areas.

7.    A plan to target addresses/properties where criminal activity is known to occur.

8.   An aggressive social media campaign for crime prevention by emphasizing the severe consequences of committing offenses.

9.  A plan to reestablish Neighborhood Watch Groups and community policing throughout the city.

10.  A plan for both law enforcement agencies (CPD and LCSO) to work collaboratively in all aspects.”

Requests like emphasizing community policing and better communication with other law-enforcement agencies are among the practices Columbus Police have long been incorporating.

“(Officers do) patrol these heavy, high crime areas, Chief Shelton said. “On the night of the shooting this past Saturday, we had officers out till two o’clock in the morning.”

Parker says the main goal of the list is to track the progress of crime prevention in Columbus and maintain that open dialog between city leaders and their citizens.

“We wanted (the goals) to be very measurable and we wanted them to have some timelines attached to them so that we can say, ‘This is the progress that we’re making, this is how we’re addressing the current issues, this is how we’re going to move forward,” she said.