Natchez police need support at every level

Published 11:57 pm Saturday, April 8, 2017

Being a police officer is certainly not easy. The pay is typically pretty lousy, the hours can be all night and weekends and some of the people in which you encounter can be less than cordial.

Police also work in all sorts of weather — sweltering heat, freezing and wet.

Police deal with the elements of society that most law-abiding citizens wish they never encountered.

Email newsletter signup

They also risk their lives when they don their uniforms and tell their loved ones goodbye as they begin their shifts.

The last thing they need is to be disrespected by the folks they serve and protect.

Somehow, over the course of the last several years, the Natchez police have developed a reputation for not being as good as they should be.

Like many things in the world, that may be rooted more in hype than in fact.

Part of the problem lies in the wide knowledge that Natchez police are paid far less than officers at other nearby agencies. Therefore, as the collective logic seems to follow, anyone who works at the Natchez Police Department must not be as good as their counterparts at say the Adams County Sheriff’s Office.

The thinking being, “If they were any good, they’d get a job at the sheriff’s office.”

That immediately sort of discounts the police officer’s value based on something that is not really a fair judge of a person’s merit or values — the value of money in their lives.

Logically, it’s difficult to realize that the more expensive thing — or person — doesn’t have more value. But we know that to not be true sometimes.

Just because a Toyota may cost less than a BMW doesn’t mean the Toyota is less effective at getting you to and from work or is less reliable. It simply costs less.

Of course, a few high profile cases have also shredded the reputation of the Natchez police as well.

Local attorney Carmen Brooks — who was simply doing a good job in defending her client — eviscerated the Natchez police’s investigative corps during a high profile trial a few years back. Brooks’ simply asking logical questions before jurors showed a number of procedural gaffes in their investigation.

While the case probably caused the police to get their investigative procedures in order, it greatly damaged their reputation.

Some of the criticism is fair, but it’s often misplaced.

Through the years, I’ve know many good police officers who stayed at the Natchez police department for many, many years.

I think of people such as Johnnie Baldwin and Craig Godbold, both of whom were on the force for many, many years.

Both were, in my judgment, not only good people who were dedicated to the people they served, but they were also good law enforcement officers, fair but tough when necessary.

Last week, Natchez police and other city and justice system leaders invited a group of convenience store owners and managers to talk about crime and ways to prevent it.

The meeting was prompted by a series of convenience store robberies that occurred in late February through early March.

Law enforcement officers believe they have arrested to two culprits and the cases against them are working through the legal system.

Interestingly, the robberies stopped as soon as they were behind bars.

The problem with the Natchez Police Department is not the men and women on the front lines. The problem is the leadership or lack thereof at the top.

Part of the problem rests at the feet of city aldermen who wring their hands and say, “We just don’t have enough money,” each year when they are confronted with the fact that city police officers are underpaid. Their inaction speaks volumes about where their priorities are.

The police department’s leadership is also not proactive and engaging enough. The police chief should be the biggest cheerleader and promoter for his department. In recent years, police leadership seems to be dragged along by the leash of whoever can pull the hardest — the mayor, a smart defense attorney or an upset group of citizens. Police officers need leadership — and the full support of the community — to be effective.

It’s long time we get that support right at all levels.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or