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Released January 21, 2005

2004 MISSISSIPPI CRIME POLL SURVEYS ATTITUDES
ABOUT COURTS, LAW ENFORCEMENT

HATTIESBURG - Although Mississippi is considered a stalwart "red state," it isn't as conservative as you might expect on at least one hot-button issue.

Results of the recently published 2004 Mississippi Crime Poll show support for the death penalty among state residents is lower than the national average.

"Fewer than three of every five Mississippians support capital punishment, which is about 20 to 30 percent less than the national average," said Dr. Alan Thompson, criminal justice professor at The University of Southern Mississippi.

Published by the Mississippi Statistical Analysis Center (MS-SAC), the 2004 Mississippi Crime Poll is the first comprehensive report of its kind designed to identify citizens' beliefs, perceptions and attitudes on crime and justice. It examines issues such as prosecutorial discretion, judicial fairness, correctional policy and citizens' confidence in local police, among others.

This month, the 23-page report was delivered to every member of the Mississippi Legislature and other key law enforcement agencies.

"We congratulate and appreciate ongoing research efforts at Southern Miss such as the 2004 Mississippi Crime Poll," said Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Rusty Fortenberry. "To be truly effective, we must have resources at our disposal by which we can measure ourselves. This data can be used as part of that measurement of success or show where improvement can be made to ensure that we are doing everything possible to provide optimum service, protection and safety to our citizens."

Thompson, who serves as director of MS-SAC, said the results of the report could provide state policymakers with relevant information to bridge the gap that often exists between public perception and legislative action.

"There is a lot of potential for disconnect between what the public wants and what the legislature thinks they want," he said.

District Attorney Buddy McDonald, who serves Lamar, Pearl River, Marion, Jefferson Davis and Lawrence counties, said he's impressed with the results of the poll.

"This could be very valuable information for those of us in law enforcement and the courts, providing feedback to see how we're viewed by the public and how they think we're doing our job," said McDonald, of District 15.

McDonald noted the importance of one statistic, in which 78 percent of those polled agreed that "it is a good idea to give all law enforcement agencies radar authority for purposes of enforcing the speed limit and preventing accidents."

"The reason this is so important is because every year you have numerous fatalities in Mississippi that are speed related on county roads. They are not built to handle fast traffic, but there is no way for sheriffs to enforce speed limits on county roads without radar.

"Some people say that sheriffs will just set up speed traps, but they don't understand the politics of being a county sheriff. They have to get elected, so they're not going to go out and systematically harass potential voters."

In a related question, 36 percent polled believe local police lack adequate resources to prevent crime.

McDonald said he hopes the legislature will respond to the will of people, which is reflected in the poll's findings.

"In terms of saving lives, as in the case with radar, the people are behind law enforcement. It's up to the legislature to catch up with what people feel on the issues. They think people don't want radar (on county roads), but it's obvious from the poll that they do," McDonald said.

As for support of the death penalty, McDonald said he's not surprised Mississippians are less inclined to support it than their national counterparts.

McDonald said he has tried a number of death penalty cases, and people's religious views always play a part with respect to the juries. "This is a highly religious area," he said.

The poll's data seems to back up this theory. While more Mississippians might disagree with the death penalty, it does not stem from fear of wrongful execution. Four out of five participants indicated being either "moderately confident" or "very confident" that Mississippi courts adequately protect innocent defendants from being erroneously put to death.

Other findings of the poll:

  • The top three forms of crime concerning those polled were drug sales (17.3 percent), robbery (15.1 percent), and burglary (14.4 percent).
  • The top three factors affecting the crime rate within local communities, according to those polled, were lack of parental discipline (24.6 percent), illegal drugs (17.6 percent) and breakdown of the traditional family (12 percent).
  • More than half of those polled (55.8 percent) believe that crime had either somewhat or greatly increased within their neighborhoods over the last three years.
  • Slightly greater than seven of every 10 survey respondents (72.1 percent) reported being moderately to very satisfied with the quality of state law enforcement service.
  • More than three-fourths of those surveyed (78.2 percent) were moderately to very confident in the ability of local prosecutors to resolve cases fairly without regard to a criminal's race, wealth or gender.

The MS-SAC was created by executive order by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in 2000.

For more information about the 2004 Mississippi Crime Poll, contact Dr. Alan Thompson at (601) 266-6048.

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April 1, 2005 11:10 AM