Nicholson neighborhood watch asks for more county help

Published 6:51 pm Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Members of a Nicholson neighborhood watch have had enough of crime in their community so they formed a group to turn the community around and clean up it’s bad name.

Nicholson has had a reputation for some time as being a less than desirable neighborhood to live in. Now residents of the community plan to fight back against crime and drug dealing but need help from local law enforcement.

At a previous Pearl River County Board of Supervisors meeting, members of the neighborhood watch asked the board for what ever assistance it could provide. Monday night the group had a meeting with Pearl River County Sheriff Joe Stuart and District IV Supervisor Robert Thigpen on what can be done to help the department enforce laws and what kind of help the department can provide the residents. Watch members Eugene Craddock and Gayenell Stockstill lead the discussion.

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Craddock said that since the board meeting, deputies presence in the community has increased.

“You’ve stepped it up a bit,” Craddock told Stuart.

However, there is still a drug dealing problem in the community. Stockstill asked Stuart if she pointed out the dealers if there was anything the department could do about it. Stockstill said she also could get tag numbers to help with the investigation.

Stuart said the information Stockstill has offered to provide could be useful but more investigation would have to take place before any arrests were made. Even If a resident knows of a high traffic area in the community, then they can alert the department, but there still needs to be more investigation in to the matter.

“Letting us know that they got a lot of traffic going in and out is not enough,” Stuart said. “You have to start investigating that information.”

Craddock suggested focusing on those supplying the drugs. Such suspected drug activity includes selling of prescription medication.

“We need to get the suppliers, not the penny ante users,” Craddock said.

If a person is selling a part of their prescription medication, deputies can use investigative techniques to build a case. Stuart said if a person who just had their prescription filled is missing more than half of the prescription from the bottle, that would be a good tip that the pills are being sold.

Thigpen said he remembers the days when the Nicholson area didn’t have such a bad reputation, and rental property owners being more restrictive about who rents could weed out the problem.

“I want to see Nicholson try to return to what it was,” Thigpen said. “There are enough people who want to rent a house that they don’t have to rent to crack heads and whatever.”

Stuart said he is undermanned to give the kind of assistance that Nicholson is requesting. Since Hurricane Katrina, the case load for the department has increased with more murders and domestic disputes. There has been a big increase in domestic disturbance calls in the south end of the county due to people being packed together so tightly in travel trailer parks.

“We’ve probably been to Cliff Mitchell Road at Allison RV Park about 1,000 times,” Stuart said.

Some financial relief may to help with the situation. Stuart said that recently the Sheriff’s Department seized about $1.5 million and will be able to put up to 80 percent of that money into their Drug Forfeiture Fund. Stuart said Pearl River County has an agreement with the District Attorney’s office to give it 20 percent in exchange for handling all the legal matters. If another agency helps in some way with the seizure, then they are entitled to a percentage of the remaining 80 percent, based on their participation level, Stuart said.

With that drug forfeiture money, Stuart said he expects to have more deputies and equipment to work with.

“I see an opportunity to take this drug forfeiture money to buy vehicles and utilize them,” Stuart said.

More deputies may come with the new vehicles once all the new homes in the county go on the tax roll in about 12 to 18 months. Stuart said about 40 percent of ad valorum taxes go to fund his department and those extra homes on the tax roll will provide more funding for more deputies. When asked why Picayune Police officers could not come and respond to calls, Stuart said they can at his request, but generally have a full plate.

Thigpen said a routine patrol by Picayune officers in Nicholson could lead to liability issues.

The neighborhood watch in Nicholson plans to meet the first and second Monday of each month. So far they have been meeting at the Nicholson Volunteer Fire Department, but Craddock said that they are looking for a larger venue to accommodate all the citizens who may want to come to a meeting.