Sheriff: Job isn’t easy, but is rewarding

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 22, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Serving as president of a national organization with more than 21,000 members isn’t an easy job.

But the task is a rewarding and important one, Adams County Sheriff Tommy Ferrell told the Natchez Rotary Club Wednesday.

In July, Ferrell was elected president of the National Sheriffs Association, an organization he had served in vice-president and committee chairman roles since 1989.

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Besides its size, what makes the role of NSA president so challenging?

For one thing, the Alexandria, Va.-based not-for-profit association administers millions of dollars in federal and other funds and has no fewer than 39 committees.

Those bodies oversee program aimed at addressing what its members see as the most critical challenges facing law enforcement today. Most importantly, especially post-Sept. 11, 2001, is homeland security.

Soon after that day’s terrorist attacks, President Bush announced that he would make it a priority to get communities involved in homeland security. Toward that end, the NSA compiled a Web site,

&uot;It allows people to see what their communities are doing locally&uot; to better protect America from terrorist attacks, Ferrell said.

The NSA is also taking steps to enhance local Neighborhood Watches and Triad groups to keep better watch for such activities.

Before Sept. 11, courthouse security was easily the No. 1 issue being tackled by sheriffs’ offices nationwide, and it is still a priority.

So are such diverse topics as domestic violence, drug law enforcement, crime prevention, school safety, juvenile justice, ethics, standards and corrections, elder abuse, aviation and technology.

The NSA also operates the National Sheriffs’ Institute, a training program for newly elected sheriffs.

One program Ferrell said he is working to leave as his legacy is the Pegasus program, a computerized system that will enable law enforcement and related agencies to better share information.

Such a system is especially useful in the event of a terrorist attack &045; when seconds count, Ferrell said.

Besides overseeing millions of dollars and dozens of committees, Ferrell has had to overcome people’s perceptions of Mississippians.

Testifying before prestigious bodies like the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ferrell has seen that it takes listeners a while to process the thought that a high-ranking NSA official is from the Magnolia State.

When Ferrell got up to testify before that committee, &uot;you could have heard a pin drop,&uot; he said.

By virtue of his position, Ferrell gets the opportunity to speak throughout the country, but he said he hasn’t put his position as Adams County’s sheriff on the back burner.

When Ferrell was first elected as NSA president, many thought he would resign as sheriff, &uot;but you have to be a seated sheriff to hold this position,&uot; he said.