Project Safe Neighborhoods continues with success in Laud. Co.

Published: Jul. 7, 2021 at 4:05 PM CDT
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MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - The initiative to remove violent offenders with federal help, Project EJECT, will no longer go by that name. It now falls into the overall initiative, Project Safe Neighborhoods, which began in 2001. Aside from a label change, the goals remain the same and its success continues in Meridian.

In February 2019, Project Safe Neighborhoods came to Lauderdale County. The inter-agency initiative allows federal entities to assist local departments with arrests and prosecution.

It’s a way to take a heavy load off smaller departments and allows offenders to go through the legal process on the federal level.

“It gave the Meridian Police Department, specifically, added resources that helps with violent offenders that cross federal jurisdiction,” Meridian police Chief Chris Read said.

So far, the initiative has yielded 10 convictions with a total sentencing of 75 years. There are 29 indictments and 39 guns have been taken off the streets. With more cases in the pipeline, it’s all about keeping violence off the streets.

“Even some offenders here are saying, ‘Meridian Police Department is not playing. We are getting federal time. The Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department is not playing. We are getting federal time. I’m getting out of the business etc..’ It has a huge effect as far as a deterrent,” Read explained.

In just three short years, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Chet Kirkham said it’s also become a deterrent.

“We’ve definitely heard anecdotal evidence, word of mouth type of information that word is spreading that there is a federal law enforcement initiative that is persistent,” Kirkham said. “It’s ongoing and that is having an effect on the mindset on the criminal community.”

The PSN not only takes violent offenders out of the community, but does so with higher consequences.

“On the prosecution side, we aim to get heftier sentences,” Kirkham explained. “There is no parole in the federal system, so when they get a sentence, absent some good time calculations where their sentence is reduced somewhat, they are going to serve the sentence they get.”

Every two weeks authorities have a meeting at the Meridian Police Department. The meetings include members of the U.S. Attorney’s office, District Attorney’s office, F.B.I. and the A.T.F. They discuss pending cases and whether or not it falls under federal qualifications.

“The vast majority of the people we have charged federally have been denied bond entirely,” Kirkham explained. “That means they stay in the Madison County Detention Center until their case is resolved. They are out and away from this community where they have been committing crime and causing harm to citizens.”

Project Safe Neighborhoods is more than just making arrests. They also visit schools and reach out to the community. Kirkham wants the people of Meridian to understand that there are many resources available and that there’s an alternative to crime after a life of crime.

“There’s a focused in Project Safe Neighborhoods to make that known and to reach out to try to keep them from going down that wrong path they went down before,” Kirkham said.

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