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Police issue needs strong leadership

Former Sheriff Tommy Ferrell has never been one to sugarcoat his opinions on an important matter, especially one relating to law enforcement.

And with 37 years in law enforcement, 16 years as Adams County Sheriff, a presidency with the National Sheriff’s Association, numerous leadership years with the Mississippi Sheriff’s Association and a sheriff family pedigree, he’s qualified to opine.

Now retired — but still active in law enforcement circles — Ferrell has the luxury of sitting back and offering advice from afar.

His advice regarding the current public image of the Natchez Police Department would be well worth heeding.

“We are seeing a lack of leadership,” Ferrell said. “Where is the leadership? I’m not just talking about a police chief, but we’ve got a mayor and aldermen and captains.”

Ferrell was talking about not only the city’s public relations efforts — or lack there of — regarding last week’s arrest of two police officers, but the ongoing issues of police salaries and equipment.

As Ferrell pointed out, city leaders should have called an emergency meeting as soon as they heard of the arrests, made a plan for the officers’ employment, reviewed possible problems in the department and announced a clear cut plan to the public.

“Continuing to make excuses, that’s not helping at all. Let’s just shut up and take action and take it forcefully,” Ferrell said.

The indicted officers should have been removed from all contact with the public the minute the city learned the FBI was investigating them, he believes, if not fired outright.

Police Chief Mike Mullins pointed out that Civil Service Commission rules — which govern the department — prevent him from disciplining an officer without cause. Mullins said the police department never received a complaint on the officers.

Mullins has to follow the law, but now that the public relations damage is done, the city’s leadership must focus on moving forward and learning from a bad situation.

Now is the time for the police chief to fight for the dozens of other good employees he has, Ferrell said. And the mayor and board of aldermen must respond.

It’s time to improve morale among officers who are understandably feeling beat up. And the best way to do that is with a good raise brought on by creative thinking, the former sheriff said.

“If we have to cut our strength and sell half our cars, let’s do whatever we have to do to increase the benefits and salaries of officers.

“Quit comparing yourself with other law enforcement agencies. We are Natchez. Make the Natchez Police Department something to be proud of.”

Adams County sheriff deputies’ salaries — approximately $5,000 higher than those at NPD — didn’t get to where they are without effort, Ferrell said. Instead, previous sheriffs, including him, worked to inch the salary up bit by bit over time.

“The most important commodity of a law enforcement agency is its personnel. You’ve got to have personnel that are taken care of. A leader has to fight for the rights of his officers.”

Ferrell’s correct. This issue isn’t good, any way you look at it. But the city hasn’t done its part to make it any better.

Where were the pledges and promises from city leaders in the hours and days after the arrest assuring us that we are in good hands? Couldn’t someone have said, “We are investigating what has transpired at the police department; we feel sure we’ll get the root of any problems, and when we do, they’ll be rectified?”

Like Ferrell said, where is the leadership?

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.

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