By KatieKohler and MichelLee
In Chester City, Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland has called on the assistance of local, county, state and neighboring law enforcement agencies to combat the city’s staggering homicide rate. This also comes after resident outcry at a February City Council meeting.
Currently, the city has experienced eight gun-related murder since the start of the new year, which amounts to approximately one murder per week since the start of 2017.
Residents called carnage experienced the weekend of Feb. 3, “the most horrific weekend.”
While the city has taken earthly interventional measures to reduce crime such as the hiring of eight new police officers, the promotion of two patrolmen to detective, and Chester Police Commissioner Otis Blair calling on the federal judiciary to prosecute repeat violent offenders at a recent press conference; Kirkland has expressed doubt in the successes of policing and is instead calling on the aid of divine intervention to dwindle crime.
“A spiritual state of emergency,” is what Kirkland, who is also a Baptist minister, has called for first to the media and later to constituents in response to some residents inquiring about the possibility of reinstating a state of emergency much like what happened in June 2010 under the Mayor Wendell Butler administration.
At last Thursday night’s “Combating Violence in Chester Roundtable” community discussion, Kirkland said, “If those men and women got together and walked in the hot spots and talked with our young and encouraged them to seek and believe in life and not death, that’s what’s going to change things. Not state troopers coming in that don’t know you…that come in with one idea – law and order. Not people coming into our community who don’t know us. That’s why we are putting this city on a spiritual state of emergency. A state of emergency puts your city on a lockdown. A spiritual state frees your city.”
While Chester’s religious community leaders applaud Kirkland’s unprecedented twist on a legislative declaration to decrease violence, residents are left scratching their heads.
“The philosophy of let’s pray about it isn’t working. There’s nothing wrong with prayer, but it’s not going to work on its own,” said longtime resident and retired Chester Fire Commissioner James L.” Jimmy” Johnson. “I don’t think his comment resonated with most of the community.”
And it didn’t, according to another resident, Carmella Brown, who said, “I just think that’s bizarre, I can’t even put it in words. All people aren’t spiritual, some don’t believe in a higher power, so how can you say that?”
Brown said as a person of faith, she was hopeful that the roundtable discussion would produce a resolution to the crime, but she said, “It’s repetitive and nothing is changing; it’s the same stuff. (Kirkland) is not making an effort to do anything, everything is at a standstill.”
Johnson, who now also chairs the city’s Republican Party, said, “When you keep trying the same strategies that yield no results… that’s called insanity.”
The popular retired fire commissioner said although he arrived late, he only stayed at the roundtable event for 15 minutes before leaving because, “It was just a feel good session. We need new strategies to combat old problems.”
In response to Kirkland’s suggestion that religious leaders go into the city’s high-crime areas to speak to the youth, Johnson said, “That’s a police job!”
“We need more cops, I can’t tell you a time when I saw a cop patrolling in my neighborhood,” Johnson said.
Brown and Johnson both recommend increasing the amount of officers on the streets, but with the police department scrambling to maintain operations after the loss of 14 officers to retirement, requesting assistance from state and federal agencies is the next best option.
However, sources familiar with the Chester Police Department said federal agencies are “already in the city” and have been for some time. Other sources familiar with the law enforcement profession said that the boost in policing is not a viable option and that some of the problems affecting Chester span across faulty institutions, economics and geographical lines.