Three On Your Side Investigation: Is Jackson's Homeland Secure? - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Jackson 05/10/07

Three On Your Side Investigation: Is Jackson's Homeland Secure?

By Marsha Thompson
marsha@wlbt.net

Is the capital city prepared in the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or large scale emergency? Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been funneled into Jackson to do just that. But we discovered a little-known, "big city" style command center paid for with your money is collecting cobwebs. Not the critical surveillance information it was intended for.

Could Jackson be a terrorist target? Real or perceived federal dollars poured in shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Taxpayer dollars apparently supplied with Homeland Security grant money. Eventually, Jackson was outfitted with a highly classified Homeland Security Center. WLBT News captured the public unveiling in 2005.  At that time, Police Chief Robert Moore held a news conference saying, "We hope we can create a better sense of safety for everyone in this city." Promises of a safer city thanks to a fiber optic surveillance dream. Hidden cameras rolling 24/7.  But is "big brother"watching out for you or not?

When the Center was unveiled it was hailed also as a new crime fighting weapon. Extra eyes and ears to bolster Jackson's understaffed police force. But our investigation found "big brother" isn't watching after all.  The Center has been locked up tight for nearly two years. In fact, it was never operational. Tons of high- tech toys.  No one at the controls.

When we questioned why it failed to open,  Homeland security signs suddenly began disappearing.  An unidentified worker was removing the lettering because city officials reportedly want to change the name. Coincidentally, other changes were rapidly taking place as we continued our look into the vacant command center on North State Street.

Monday a Jackson Police officer at the site. We asked what was going on. The Officer said he was "trying to get a few things in order."  Tuesday, a flurry of activity was taking place at City Hall.  Council President Ben Allen called an Executive session based on sensitive Homeland Security matters.  And to the surprise of most everyone at the Council meeting an impromptu outing took place.  We learned the Mayor, city officials and  Police Chief took citizens to the center. We were told each person in the entourage was sworn to secrecy. No one had comment after the site review.

It's a center so stealth, to our amazement some Councilmen had no idea a City operated Homeland Security center existed.  We ask Councilman Frank Blunston if he would like to see it up and running? His reply, "It's not running? No sir. Why?  "That's a good question."  Councilman Charles Tillman asked  us if the center was staffed? "No sir." Tillman: "It's just a room down there?"   " We can zoom in on locations in the City of Jackson  and see what's going on? " Councilman Bluntson: "We do have that and we have not been using it?"

Councilman Marshand Chrisler was aware the center had been funded and remained unmanned, "We have high-tech cameras strategically placed throughout the city which is great. But if nobody's watching, it means very little doesn't it?" 

Councilman Tillman:"Well, who do you talk about to make sure these things get operational?" We suggested the Council and Mayor were in charge of the command center because it's a Jackson facility. Councilman Bluntson: "It's a City of Jackson facility? That amazes me. We're in charge of something I didn't know anything about."  He added, "this is something we have needed all along." Councilman Stokes told us with the level of crime in the Capitol city, it should have been utilized long before now.

So is this a case of homeland security or homeland insecurity even Government waste? while a high -priced potential crime fighting tool collects cobwebs  Jackson jails collect more criminals. And frustrated Jacksonians wait for protection they were promised.

 Congressman Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee had this response to our special report. Thompson told WLBT News  "It's probably one of the more egregious examples of Homeland Security funds not being spent to make communities safe that I know of."

City officials tell us to expect a major announcement in the near future. Wlbt News will continue to bring you the latest developments.

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