Three qualify for Vidalia police chief race

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 12, 2011

VIDALIA — Qualifying for the April 2 special election for Vidalia police chief is over, and three candidates will be on the spring ballot.

Qualification ended at 4:30 p.m. Friday with interim police chief Arthur Lewis, Ferriday Police Department patrolman Sam King and criminal defense attorney Stuart Boykin all qualifying.

The election is to fill the unexpired term of former Vidalia police chief Ronnie “Tapper” Hendricks.

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Hendricks resigned from his position Nov. 1 after being charged with lying to federal law enforcement agents by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Hendricks later pleaded guilty to the charge at federal court in Alexandria Nov. 18. Sentencing for the charge is scheduled for Feb. 25.

Lewis has been serving as interim chief since Hendricks’ resignation in November.

Boykin has been working for attorney Derrick Carson’s office as a criminal defense attorney since 2008, but said he has approximately 15 years of law enforcement experience under his belt.

Boykin said he has always gotten more enjoyment out of police work than being an attorney.

“I like it better. It is more enjoyable,” he said. “If you compare the two work wise, I just get more satisfaction out of law enforcement.”

Boykin said his experience working for the judicial system gives him some additional information into how to improve the police department.

“Being in court, I have more insight, and I get to see more things that could be done better,” he said. “One thing I notice is the department needs to work on getting information from the department to the property authorities at a more reasonable time. If that does not get done, it can cause problems.”

Boykin said he can offer different perspectives of how to go about each investigation.

“I can give the officers different ways to look at things,” he said. “I can help get a successful prosecution and not just an arrest. It is always better when dealing with a guilty person to reach a judicial end, and not just have them let go.”

Working on assigning the right officer for the right position is a crucial part of the job for smaller town police chiefs, Boykin said.

“Every young officer that comes in has a preference to where they want to work,” he said. “The chief is the leader of all of those officers, and he needs to make sure he has the right officers fitting in the right position.”

Boykin said due to budget cuts and young officers using smaller departments as a stepping stone to bigger cities, the new police chief must do anything in his power to keep young officers around.

“This is a very serious concern for all small departments in the nation,” he said. “If you can keep these officers at the department, you can get a lot more done.”

Boykin said ultimately he understands residents just want to feel safe in their own community.

“People want officers there and doing their job. They want to have an avenue to express concerns to the administration and if elected, I will provide that.”

King has been working in law enforcement for 11 years, and said he got his start working at the VPD as a reserve officer. King said his love of law enforcement started at the VPD when he was a child

“As a child, before I could even see over the counter into the police department, we would stop by two or three times a week,” he said. “Chief (Delane) Thornhill and all the officers were always nice, and from that point on I always had a love for it.”

King said he also has business experience coupled with his law enforcement experience, making him additionally qualified for the job. He works as audience director at The Natchez Democrat.

“I have been in the newspaper business for most of my life, and I can bring that experience to the table,” he said. “I have a business sense that no one else can bring.”

King said his work with the FPD is mainly in narcotics violations, an area he said needs improvement in Vidalia.

“Sometimes we forget what is really affecting the citizens,” he said. “If you aren’t enforcing it, it spins off onto everything else. Narcotics are at the heart of most other crimes.”

Getting the police department back into the community is another area in which King said he wants to focus the department if elected.

“I want to let folks know the police are still there and that we are not bad people,” he said. “A lot of the times officers get the stigma that they are bad people. The mission of the police department is to be servants of the residents, and they need to know we are there for them.”

Lewis said during his time as interim chief he has learned a lot, and that if he is elected he will continue to make improvements at the VPD.

Since Lewis has been serving as assistant chief and interim chief at VPD, he said a number of important community programs have been enacted including the Triads elderly watch program, work with school resource officers and current work on a new community watch program.

Lewis said he has gotten a lot of positive feedback on the programs.

“I have had people come up to me in the streets and say they have noticed there are extra patrols going through their neighborhoods,” he said.

Lewis said his 31 years of law enforcement experience have him prepared and ready to continue his work as police chief if he is elected.

“I have always wanted to be a police officer. It is in my heart, and it is what I do,” he said. “I want to bring mature, honest and fair work, and I hope that these qualities reflect in the employees at my office.”

Lewis said the one thing he wants to be sure to bring to the position of police chief if he is elected is fairness.

“I am not above the law. I enforce the same law on myself that I do on everyone else,” he said.

“Everyone wants to be treated fairly, and that is what I want to bring to the position.”

Lewis said focusing on making the community safer for all residents is the main goal he wants to continue to focus on until the election.

“I have a family that lives here too, and I want them to always feel like they live in a safe environment,” he said. “I want to protect people and to work fair by upholding city, state and federal policies in the best way that I can.”