As other cities grapple with rising crime, this Mississippi city saw number of homicides drop in 2021

Published 7:00 am Friday, January 7, 2022

As many cities in Mississippi grapple with an alarming rise in crime — including homicides — one Mississippi city saw a more than 25 percent drop in homicides.

The number of homicides in Vicksburg fell by 27 percent between 2020 and 2021, according to information from the Vicksburg Police Department.

According to police, Vicksburg had three homicides in 2021 — two in June and one in November. All three were solved. By comparison, police investigated 11 homicides in 2020. Warren County had zero homicides in 2021, down from three in 2020.

“My heart goes out to the family of any homicide victim. Our statistics indicate that we were very blessed in 2021,” Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said.

“I believe it speaks volumes for changes in the police department and the community awareness we have going on right now,” Mayor George Flaggs said of the drop in the city’s 2021 homicide rate. “I think we’re doing a much better job patrolling, I think we’re doing a much better job educating the public on the importance of non-violence in our community.

“I think we’ve all started paying more attention to violence in our community and reporting it,” Flaggs said.

Police Chief Penny Jones said there were probably a variety of different causes for the higher homicide rate in 2020, adding some of it was “probably due to economic and social changes brought out by the pandemic; our youth are carrying guns and committing adult crimes.”

The police community, she said, is changing, pointing out that like businesses, police departments are short-handed and trying to hire officers.

“You don’t have as many police in different places,” she said.

Jones also said she believes COVID-19 accounted for many of the prior homicides in 2020 and late 2019.

“People were afraid; they were locked inside of their home, people were working from home and there was a shortage of food and cleaning supplies,” she said. “The rate of aggravated assault arose between that time to in between 10 and 15 percent above normal between 2019 and 2020; aggravated assaults were probably some of the most common crimes we had.”

In 2022, Jones said, people are trying to get back to some sort of a normal life.

“People are able to go places and not have to wear their masks in certain places and that’s due to the vaccines coming out. People are getting their boosters,” she said. “I think crime may be lowered considering the convenience of being able to do things now versus in the past. People are really available now to love on each other. Instead of a virtual hug on a screen, now you can personally walk up to them and give them a hug.”

As far as law enforcement is concerned, Jones said, “In this particular time, we are being a little bit more aggressive in investigating and solving crimes. We have better communication skills, a better working relationship with the District Attorney and with the judges.”

Also, she said, the police department is working with the sheriff’s department and the FBI on gun cases, because so many youths are involved in violent crimes with weapons.

“We are working as a team, and that plays such a big role when these agencies are able to come together for the common good of the citizen,” Jones said.

Some homicides, however, cannot be prevented, Jones said.

“There’s nothing you really can do about it; it’s something that’s almost going to happen,” she said. “It’s no different than a domestic violence case; sometimes we’re there and someone is killed. All homicides hurt but in some cases, someone is killed and you can’t prevent it.”

The city’s three homicides included:

• Thomas Hardman, 14, is charged as an adult with manslaughter-culpable negligence in the June 8 shooting death of his 11-year-old cousin, Rashawn Wilbert.

Vicksburg police officers responding to a 7:56 p.m. call about a shooting at a home on Elizabeth Circle arrived to find the 11-year-old boy suffering from a gunshot wound to his chest. He was later pronounced dead at the scene.

• Malik Vallarie, 21, was found shot dead June 14 in the Kings community by police officers responding to a 2:33 p.m. a call of shots fired near the Vicksburg Animal Shelter, 100 Old Mill Road. A firearm police believed was used in the shooting was recovered from the scene.

Two people, Laqesha Davis, 29, and Demarion Reed, 15, both of Vicksburg, were charged with murder in the shooting. Davis is also charged with instructing a juvenile to commit a felony.

• Oceanna Lee Hubbard, 28, was shot and killed on Nov. 20. Police responding to a 7 a.m. call of shots fired at the Riverwalk Casino, 1046 Warrenton Road, found Hubbard lying in the parking garage suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.

Her husband, Cedrick L. Hubbard Jr., 26, is charged in the case.