Vidalia chief hopefuls ready
VIDALIA — With the special election for Vidalia Police Chief a week away and early voting for the election ending today, Vidalia residents are running out of time to get to know the candidates running for the position.
On April 2, Vidalians will hit the polls to choose either criminal defense attorney Stuart Boykin, Ferriday Police Department patrolman Sam King or interim police chief Arthur Lewis for the position.
The election is to fill the unexpired term of former Vidalia police chief Ronnie “Tapper” Hendricks.
Hendricks resigned from his position Nov. 1 after being charged with lying to federal law enforcement agents by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Lewis, who was previously serving as assistant chief, has been serving as interim chief since Hendricks’ resignation in November.
With election time nearing, all three candidates said they were qualified to lead the VPD for the next term.
Boykin said he is running for police chief because of his love for the profession.
“I love law enforcement and I want to go back into it,” he said. “I want the opportunity to lead the department forward to becoming truly professional.”
Boykin said if elected, one of his goals would be to keep officers at the department longer.
“I want to get the department to a point where young officers aren’t just coming in and using it as a stepping stone for bigger departments,” he said. “There are some very competent older officers on the force now, but they are going to retire and you need new people who are in the area.”
Boykin said that money is always an issue in smaller departments like Vidalia’s, but finding a way to have career officers in the city is something that needs to be done.
“Ultimately, what you are looking for is an officer who wants to be in the community for their entire career,” he said. “Most officers want to do that, but a lot of the times they can’t because of pay issues.”
Boykin said cars speeding, playing loud music and blaring their exhausts through neighborhoods in Vidalia is another problem he wants to fix in the city.
“I have had a lot of people come up to me and complain about these things,” he said. “They are obviously concerned about these things, and they want something done about it.”
Boykin said examining how the personnel is assigned at the department would be the best way to help solve the problem.
“We need to put them where they can work more efficiently,” he said. “We need to have the most people on duty per shift that the budget permits.”
Boykin said working hard to make sure perpetrators of all crimes are prosecuted will also help deter crimes from happening
“It does no good if you take them to court but they are never prosecuted,” he said.
In the past, Boykin said he had heard there were problems with paperwork getting to the right authorities at the VPD, and that is something he wants to correct.
“If it isn’t getting there, I want to fix it as soon as possible,” he said.“You have to get everything where it needs to go.”
With a growing community comes the threat of growing crime, and Boykin said the best way to help fight off an increase in crime is to stay in front of it.
“A lot of people like to limit their department based on their population size,” he said. “I don’t subscribe to that. There are too few officers on the streets for 2011. You can’t police the city today like you could in 1980.”
Boykin said a shortage of officers patrolling makes staying in front of crime nearly impossible.
“Traditionally, local departments increase their size after something has happened,” he said. “Playing catch up just doesn’t work, and I don’t want to do that.”
Boykin said the role of the police chief is a 24-hour-a-day job, and that the position requires an administrative attitude.
“The police chief is essentially a department head, and he has to be sure the department is running smoothly. That is his primary job,” he said.
Boykin said assigning the right supervisors to the right duties is also a key to a police chief’s duties.
“You have to have people in complimentary roles,” he said.
Boykin also said while the work is mainly administrative, it is also mult-faceted.
“You can’t just do one thing,” he said. “It goes from taking care of the budget to making sure your newest officer is properly trained. You have to do a lot of things.”
King said he wants to bring strong leadership to the role of police chief if elected.
“I want to focus on law enforcement and keeping the community safe, not politics,” he said. “(Vidalia) has a history of not doing any true policing and in changing times, police need to adjust to the times we are living in now.”
King said one of his first goals if elected would be to get the VPD back into the community.
“I want them to know who the officers are so they can know and trust their officers,” he said. “I want myself and officers alike to enforce the law as it is written, in a fair manner.”
King also said focusing on getting youth interested in law enforcement is another goal he has for the department.
“That is something big we need to do,” he said. “The youth will be able to work special events with the officers and get familiar with how being an officer works.”
King said he believes officers need to refocus their attention.
“We need to make sure officers understand what their job is,” he said. “
King said focusing on every level of law enforcement is important in a city with a low crime rate and that using proactive law enforcement is the best technique.
“Being reactive says an officer will wait on something to happen before anything is done about it,” he said. “Being proactive allows you to address the issue before it becomes a problem. Proactive law enforcement tends to lower crime.”
King said property crimes, assaults and batteries and drugs are some of the main areas in which Vidalia has problems.
“We need to focus on addresses and houses that are hot spots for suspicious activities,” he said. “Using proactive law enforcement and having better training can help us find these and focus our efforts on them.”
King said better training is the difference between catching a criminal speeding and catching a criminal speeding with drugs or weapons in the car.
“Better training can take a traffic stop to the next level,” he said. “Many officers want to get the stop over as quick as they can, but if they just looked for signs, they may be able to find more.”
King said it is the focus on training and proactive law enforcement that will help Vidalia keep its crime rate low as the city grows.
“If you train them and make sure they are at their best, then we will know how to address crime in the area,” he said. “If we can get training and handle it before it takes place, then we can develop a plan to deal with it before it happens.”
With a town the size of Vidalia, King said it is extremely important for the police chief to be a visible member of the community.
“We don’t have the luxury of having a chief who sits in the office all day,” he said. “The chief needs to be in the community following up on complaints so they can know for themselves the pulse of the city.”
King said being a chief that is accessible to the citizens means always being ready to help.
“Will the chief be able to respond to every call, no, but he should be available when he is needed,” he said.
Arthur K. Lewis
Lewis said his desire to help people and not political ambition drives him toward being the chief in Vidalia.
“Before I was named (interim) chief, I never thought I would actually be one. I only wanted to be in law enforcement, to help people,” he said. “Without law enforcement the world would be total chaos, and I’m just glad the Lord chose me to be one of his tools to help fight it.”
Lewis said since he has been at the Vidalia Police Department he has been blessed.
“When I made the decision to stay here, everything just started to take off,” he said. “I was just doing what I know to do, being an officer and a person at the same time.”
Lewis said his rise through the ranks at the VPD has been a great opportunity for him to do some good in the community.
Since becoming assistant chief at the station, Lewis started a Neighborhood/Community watch program, a Triad program for the elderly and certified school resource officers.
“These programs that I am involved in are not just political stunts,” he said. “I hope they last, no matter who wins chief.”
The new programs are part of Lewis’s goals for the VPD.
“I want to have the citizens of Vidalia and the people who come through Vidalia to have confidence, pride and trust in the department,” he said.
Lewis said his own personal goal for the department is to have fair-minded officers.
“I want my officers to treat people right, all people, no matter who they are,” he said. “I want this department to be able to be trusted, and when we are needed, I want people to feel that we are honestly trying to meet those needs. This is their department, not ours.”
Lewis said that even though Vidalia has been blessed with a low crime rate, there are still many crimes committed.
“We have break-ins and thefts just like any other community,” he said.
Lewis said Vidalia also experiences problems with drugs.
“I would be lying if I told you we didn’t have a problem with them,” he said. “Just having one case of drug-related issues is a concern, and while it may not be on every corner, we are still working on getting drugs out of the area.”
Lewis said he has already hired a drug investigator to help with the problem, and that it is going to take a joint effort from all parish and Adams County officers to help slow down the problem.
“We will never be able to get rid of all the drugs in an area, and any officer will tell you that,” he said. “But we can continue to investigate them, get convictions and deter people from bringing drugs to the area.”
With all the recent projects and improvements in Vidalia, the growing community could lead to higher crime rates, something Lewis said is dependent on the people who are moving to the city.
“You just have to hope and pray that, as people move into the city, that they are good people who are hard working and add a value to Vidalia,” he said.
Lewis said having the officers out doing their jobs is the best deterrent for crime.
“I am going to hope and pray that we continue to grow, but the crime does not,” he said.
“The only thing we can do is stay visible and do our jobs to deter criminals from the city.”
Lewis said being police chief is a 24-hour-a-day job, and that he is always ready to be there to help.
“I know there are going to be some cases that are unsolved,” he said. “But I give the people my word to try my best to make sure every case is looked at, no matter how big or small the crime.”