Two candidates for NPD chief waiting; Brown backs White

Published 12:06 am Saturday, June 23, 2012

NATCHEZ — Even after a nine-month wait and swirl of controversy surrounding the appointment of a police chief, the two candidates for the top law enforcement job in the City of Natchez are still interested.

The candidates are Rudolph A. Babin, a recently retired captain of the Baton Rouge Police Department, and Interim Chief Danny White.

Mayor-elect Larry L. “Butch” Brown said he supports White for the position of chief, but he said the appointment is ultimately up to the aldermen.

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“(White) seems to be the will of the board and their attitude in the spirit of harmony,” Brown said. “Starting off and to get the city in gear, I’m going to stay with (White) as my recommendation as permanent chief.”

The current board of aldermen has delayed a decision on the Natchez chief until after July 2, when a new board and mayor will take office.

Babin retired last month after 31 years as a Baton Rouge police officer. He said he had been planning to retire and wanting to move to Natchez for some time.

Babin said he worked cases in Natchez in the 1990s with Sheriff Chuck Mayfield when the two men were both narcotics officers.

“My wife and I have always loved Natchez and the area, and we’ve always planned on moving away from Baton Rouge,” Babin said.

During his time at BRPD, Babin was a commander of several divisions, including the violent crime unit and police personnel. Babin was the assistant chief of detectives and managed a staff or more than 100 people.

Babin has a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Phoenix and a master’s degree in criminal justice from South University in Savannah, Ga. Babin’s concentration for his master’s degree was administration of law enforcement of progressive police departments.

“(Progressive police departments) are departments that want to move along with the times and move along with the management and who don’t want to do things the way they’ve been done for the last 50 years,” Babin said.

Babin also teaches a homeland security class at Tulane University. He said he was asked to teach the class this fall.

“But I’ve been in limbo about the job in Natchez, so I decided not to take it,” he said.

Baton Rouge, Babin said, is a city he has seen go from somewhat of a small town to a large city with an enormous jump in crime. With crime at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds in Natchez, Babin said he believes he knows what it takes to curtail crime before it becomes a bigger problem.

“I think I know what works and what doesn’t work, and I have seen the things that lead up to a city becoming a high-crime area,” he said. “And I don’t want to see that happen to Natchez.”

Babin said he believes he has some good ideas for keeping crime, especially violent crime, down in Natchez and also school programs that will reduce violence among young people.

Babin said he views being an out-of-towner as an advantage for managing the police department.

“I have no connection to the police department, so I will be able to look at it objectively and not show favoritism and see what is working and what changes are needed,” he said.

One of the main tools the police department needs, Babin said, is a strategic plan.

“You need a plan for where you want the department to be a few years down the road,” he said.

Babin said crime affects not only victims but also a city’s economic development and getting businesses to locate to Natchez.

“I want to keep Natchez a beautiful city, a city with a small-town feel and crime-free and where people want to move,” he said.

White, a Natchez native, said he knows his city.

White has spent almost 29 years at the Natchez Police Department, where he started as a booking officer in 1983.

White graduated from Alcorn State University in 1974 with a degree in social science.

White became a patrol officer in 1987 and worked in the patrol division for 11 years. After being promoted to sergeant in 1999, White was put in charge of the Criminal Investigation Division and was later promoted to lieutenant.

White took over the operations division in 2003 and was promoted to captain in 2005. The operations division controls the patrol, criminal investigation, K9 patrol, crime prevention and housing divisions.

White decided after taking over operations, he wanted to go back to Alcorn to get his master’s in guidance and counseling in 2006.

White said running the division made him realize he had to be able to work with all different types of people. He said taking psychology classes during his graduate studies has helped him achieve that goal.

“You work with people who have all different types of personalities, and you have to be able to communicate with all of them,” White said. “If you can’t communicate, you can’t get anything done.”

White said he believes his many years at NPD would help him make a smooth transition into the permanent chief.

“I know (the staff), and I know my guys and what to expect from them, and they know what to expect from me,” he said.

Since taking over the department in November, White said he believes he has addressed one of the main concerns at the department.

“Basically, (it was) getting the patrol officers back in the community,” White said. “People don’t like to talk to strangers, but if your guys are out there, that’s when people start talking to you and helping you (solve crime).”

White said he personally patrols the city and makes rounds talking to business owners downtown, in the Natchez Mall and throughout the city.

“I make it my business to get out there and talk to people and see what their problems are and how the police can help them,” White said.

White said he plans on involving community groups on discussions about ways to reduce crime, as well as implementing new safety procedures and garnering more support for the department.

“I want the police department to be the fabric of the community,” White said.

White said, if appointed, he intends to stay focused on the department’s mission, vision and goals, and he said he wants to be “more proactive when it comes to crime rather than reactive.”

“The police are impacted and guided by community input, and I want to make sure the police department understands our community needs us.”

The police chief position was left open after the board asked former chief Mike Mullins to retire early in November 2011.

Mayor Jake Middleton’s original timetable including having a chief appointed by January. Middleton has said casino negotiations and other city business pushed back the search for a chief.

Two unexpected motions by Ward 2 Alderman James “Rickey” Gray to hire White and Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery to hire Babin two weeks apart caused public protest and outcry.

Middleton broke a 3-3 tie at the April 10 meeting that was split along racial lines among the aldermen by voting against hiring White.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, Gray and Ward 4 Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields walked out of the board’s April 24 meeting in protest against what they say is a racially motivated push to not permanently hire White, who is black.

Babin said as an outsider observing what happened with the disagreements among the aldermen about the police chief appointee, he believed there was a racial divide.

“I don’t think that’s good for the city,” he said. “I think the most qualified person should get the job, whether they’re black, white, purple or green.”

White said he had no comment on the political tug-of-war over police chief. He said during the controversy, he kept his focus on the police department.

“My primary job was running the police department; that was my main focus, my guys and the community,” he said. “I left all the politics up to the political people.”