STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI) – On Tuesday, Starkville Police arrested 16-year-old Jaylan Sullivan after responding to a gas station shooting.
This latest crime involving a young person prompted Police Chief Mark Ballard to call for a better infrastructure for addressing juvenile crimes, which he calls a crisis that the area has dealt with for years.
“We’re seeing the surge of violence among our juveniles again,” Chief Ballard said. “Seven juveniles since November of  (to January 31) have been charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and murder. And that is a wake up call for any community leader.”
Starkville Police say that in the past 35 days juveniles have been charged with four violent crimes in the area. From January to November of 2020, Starkville Police made 32 felony arrests involving juveniles. Twelve of those arrests involved either stolen guns or attempted murder.
“The day they turn 18, most of these children are walking straight into the correctional facility,” Chief Ballard said. “And that is extremely frustrating because this can be corrected now when they’re teenagers.”
Chief Ballard says a number of the young people they arrest are repeat offenders. He says sometimes they have arrested the same people multiple times within the same week.
The police chief says the time is now to find a way to not just put a stop to juvenile crime but prevent it before it ever happens.
“Our system is built upon, many times, turning the child back to a home that the child is already struggling in,” he said. “And there’s not a lot of alternatives.”
Now he’s calling on local leaders to find more alternatives.
Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Security Chief Sammy Shumaker says seeing the violence among young people inspired him to form a prayer group in 2017 that tours area schools. The group includes county supervisors and Shumaker says they are working to try and find a way to create a local juvenile detention center.
“We need to seek out to get a facility where, when juveniles are caught breaking the law, whether it’s in school or in the community, they can be placed in a juvenile detention center,” he said.
Oktibbeha County NAACP President Yulanda Haddix says a major part of the solution is investing resources into the communities that need them most.
“The African-American communities are under-served already,” she said. “We do not have the ability or the resources to have a private lawyer.”
She adds that learning how to use those resources to navigate the legal system is also a priority.
“Sometimes crime are committed that we just need to know what’s the next process,” she explained. “So we have people in place now who can walk us through that process. So we realize the difference between going to jail for 30 years and then just going to a rehabilitation [center].”
Haddix says the NAACP has coordinated with attorneys to offer free legal help as well as counseling facilities to address mental health. She also suggested forming a board of people in various communities to pinpoint the most significant needs facing those areas.
Chief Ballard says he is willing to work with anyone who is committed to finding a way to help young people take the right step forward.
“Now’s the time to have that discussion, to be able to find solutions,” he said. “In order to prevent our children from growing up into a lifestyle that’s going to guarantee them into incarceration or into tragedy.”