Armstrong reflects on tenure as chief

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, December 17, 2020

NATCHEZ — When Walter Armstrong leaves his office at the Natchez Police Department Friday afternoon he will close the door on his term as Natchez Police Chief.

Armstrong announced in August that he would be stepping down at the end of the year and offered to stay on until a new chief is hired.

The Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen on Dec. 9 hired Joseph M. Daughtry Sr. to be the new police chief and Armstrong announced his last day would be Friday, Dec. 18.

As Armstrong looks back at his tenure as head of the Natchez Police Department that began in August 2017, he said he is proud of many improvements implemented under his administration.

Armstrong said he had researched the Natchez Police Department before applying for the job in 2017.

“I learned there were a lot of inefficiencies at this department,” Armstrong said. “I knew that needed to be addressed.”

One of Armstrong’s top priorities, he said, was to improve recruitment and retention of police officers.

“Officers were understaffed and grossly under paid at $12.18 per hour, starting,” Armstrong said of when he came onboard in 2017. “I knew I needed to address that.”

Armstrong worked quickly with the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen to implement the department’s first pay raise in seven years, giving all officers a 7% pay increase in 2017 and the starting salary went from $12.18 to $13.03.

In 2018, starting salaries increased up to at least $15 per hour and $15.50 after completing police academy training.

“It (the pay) is still low but it is better than it used to be,” Armstrong said. “The rank and file has somewhat stabilized. There is still some coming and going, and we are still in the process of hiring intermediate level officers.”

Another accomplishment Armstrong said he is proud of is the addition of body cameras as part of all officers’ uniforms.

“Nowadays, it has to be a part of the uniform issuance to all officers,” Armstrong said of body cameras. “You can’t have officers out there without body cameras, and other equipment as well.”

Armstrong said he soon realized after moving to Natchez that the city had a violent crime problem. Throughout the year 2018, Natchez had 12 murders.

“In 2018 we had a lot homicides in our community,” Armstrong said, adding he worked to put project NOLA cameras in strategic areas throughout the city to curb crime. “We also are working with Mike Hurst of the U.S. Attorney’s office through Project EJECT.”

Project EJECT, a partnership between federal and local law enforcement, opened a local office in Natchez in February 2019 to fight crime in Natchez and Adams County.

As a result of such proactive measures, Armstrong said 2019 had a 75% reduction in violent crimes.

“A lot more needs to be done but more importantly, we need to build on what has been put in place,” Armstrong said of the task ahead for Daughtry. “Hopefully, there will come a time when we won’t have any violent crime.”

Armstrong said the violent crime rate in Natchez continues to fall through 2020 which has had six murders so far this year as of Thursday.

Armstrong said most of the homicides in 2020 have been among people who had interactions, including family members and friends who got out of hand rather than premeditated acts of retaliation as had been the case with many of 2018’s murders.

“You cannot put a price on a life,” Armstrong said, adding he is affected by each murder investigation.

Armstrong said citizens must help police with investigations to help put a stop to senseless violent acts.

At the end of the day Friday, Armstrong will not only be ending his tenure as Natchez Police Chief but also will be capping another chapter in his 37-year law enforcement career that including retiring from the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol in June 2009 after 25 years of service, serving as Chief of Police for Vicksburg from July 2009 until July 2017 and serving as president of the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police in 2018-19, he said.

“I made my decision in 2019 that I would be ending this aspect of my law enforcement career in 2020,” Armstrong said, adding that he is not ready to settle down and not work but he plans to do something less involved.

Armstrong, who is married to Janice Armstrong and has four grown sons, would not specify what the next phase of his career might be.

“We look forward in the next chapter of our life to doing what will involve work but not at this level,” Armstrong said. “I will always support law enforcement. I cringe at people who say defund law enforcement. Society cannot function without peace officers.”

Armstrong and his wife own a house in Natchez and another house in Vicksburg, and he said they plan to split their time between the two cities.