JACKSON, Miss. – Amid backlash over the fatal shooting of a Mississippi man, the state’s top law enforcement official said officers of a special police unit in the capital city of Jackson will not change the way they pursue suspects.
Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell met with community members following a spate of recent shootings involving the Capitol Police, a unit that patrols areas around state government buildings and other neighborhoods near downtown Jackson.
“Anytime there is a loss of life, it’s tragic,” Tindell said Thursday night at a Jackson church. “But we can’t be deterred in trying to make the city safe and doing policing the way it’s supposed to be done.”
Jaylen Lewis, 25, was shot during an encounter Sunday night with Capitol Police officers. He later died. According to the Department of Public Safety, the officers attempted to initiate a traffic stop when the shooting occurred. The officers involved have been placed on administrative leave until an internal investigation is completed, a department spokesperson said.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, another division of the Department of Public Safety, is handling the investigation.
In a community meeting organized by Jackson City Councilman Kenneth Stokes, Tindell vowed that “bad actors” in the Capitol Police would be held accountable. He also said there is a “criminal element” in Jackson “that is not used to being policed.”
“Don’t sit here and complain about crime and death and murder and kids killing kids and tell me there’s respect for law and order. Because there’s not,” Tindell said.
One woman she her son died fourth months ago. She said “arresting and killing” people shouldn’t be the only way to prevent crime.
“There’s not a lot to do in Jackson. A lot of people are lost,” said the woman, who did not give her name when she spoke at the meeting.
Stokes said some of his constituents fear that some Capitol Police officers might not be trained “on how to deal with Black people in Black neighborhoods.”
“How do we stop the killing?” Stokes asked.
About 80% of Jackson residents are Black. The public safety commissioner and the Capitol Police chief are white.
Tindell said Capitol Police could do a better job of connecting with residents. He also said officers couldn’t reduce tension with people through police work alone.
“One of things we see again and again is a lack of accountability, particularly with young people who have no supervision,” Tindell said. “They grow up a with a sense of ‘nobody cares about them, so why should anybody else.’”
Before Sunday’s shooting, Capitol Police officers were involved in one shooting Aug. 14 and another Sept. 12. The department said those two shootings were not fatal. On Sept. 7, a man died in a car wreck after he was chased by Capitol Police.
Responding to questions over the recent altercations between citizens and officers, Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey said his officers have changed tactics.
“The way we’re going to police the area is not going to be the same as its been in the past,” Luckey said.
Luckey said Capitol Police have made close to 100 arrests since he became chief in late May, which he characterized as a “very large number of arrests for any agency.” He said those arrests primarily stem from more “proactive policing,” which involves patrolling areas more often to show an increased police presence.
Police chases have been fatal in and around Jackson. In July, officers from another department chased someone from a suburb into Jackson. The chase ended in a wreck that killed a postal worker caught in the fray. Jackson has a high number of stolen vehicles, which makes pursuits necessary, according to Luckey.
“Getting a tag and running it later does nothing. Surveillance cameras do nothing,” Luckey said. “We have to take further steps to identify these actors.”
Tindell said rising crime in Jackson makes necessary the Capitol Police’s new approach to policing.
“I got news for you,” Tindell said. “The businesses are leaving, the lawful- abiding citizens are going to leave. And I’m trying to build that confidence back that we will be here for the long term to turn it around.”
David Archie, a member of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors, said the recent incidents between Capitol Police and people in Jackson require more community engagement.
“If you’re going to come into this community, please sir, I’m asking you not to come into this community like you’ve got all the answers,” Archie said.
This story has been updated to correct a quote from Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell. Tindell said “law and order," not “law enforcement.”
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.