The recent death of 17-year-old Tiara Dancer in the Haven Acres neighborhood has sparked the conversation of gun violence in the city and what can be done to prevent other incidents.

In less than a year, there have been nine homicides in Tupelo, with Dancer’s the most recent. Almost half of the 35 homicides since 2004 within Tupelo city limits have happened within the last three years. In today’s centerpiece story from William Moore, he highlights the conversation currently taking place in the Haven Acres community.

Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings invited city and community leaders to a neighborhood association meeting last week, where officials discussed how to get guns off the street and empowering the community to step up and work with officials.

“We need feedback from the community, people standing up to do the right thing,” Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre said. “Give us the location where it is at. Specify if you can see any weapons. That could escalate our response.”

Aguirre pointed out in the neighborhood meeting that violence is not just happening on the south end, and this needs to be a city-wide effort. Residents are also being urged to report crimes and suspicious activities, taking ownership of their neighborhoods.

“We will be all over town, not just Haven Acres and the south end,” Aguirre said. “We will be on the east and west sides as well. We have seen homicides and gun violence all over town, not just one area.”

Haven Acres is an example of what can be done to reduce crime. In the late 1990s, the neighborhood partnered with the city and police to push crime out of the area, along with being named a U.S. Department of Justice Weed and Seed site, aimed at “weeding out” crime and “seeding” community development.

Implementing Zero Tolerance for crimes within the neighborhood and utilizing Community Oriented Policing (C.O.P.), residents and property owners partnered with the city and police department to report suspicious activities, and encouraged frequent check points by officers. The result was a 65% decrease in loitering, drug trafficking, prostitution and gang activity in less than a year.

We commend Councilman Jennings for his prompt response and call to action for the Haven Acres community after the city’s most recent homicide, along with city officials for starting the conversation on what we can do to decrease violence.

We need to continue the conversation and work together to ensure the safety of all residents.

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