‘This is where I should be’: Green ready to make history as Natchez police chief

Published 3:43 pm Friday, March 3, 2023

NATCHEZ — She says she’s country as a collard green. Don’t be fooled.

Caroline “Cal” Green is also equal parts savvy and sophisticated, quietly competitive and determined.

The Natchez native who grew up on her family’s farm in Kingston has the honest, dedicated work ethic for which Baby Boomers are known, and her resume shows it.

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She has the diplomatic skills necessary to navigate life one acquires when growing up with seven brothers and five sisters.

She has enough country in her to know how to pick her battles wisely and to fight one to the end when it’s necessary.

And Green made history on Tuesday when she was appointed Natchez’s first female police chief.

Green said she is up for the challenge and has immediate goals to bring some stability to a department down about 15 officers. Long term, she aims to have the most well-trained force in Mississippi, one that its community has confidence in and one that is effective in its mission.

She’s also on a mission to mend fences and has gotten a head start on that.

The Willie Huff School of Law Enforcement

After graduating from South Natchez-Adams High School in 1979, Green left for Houston, where she worked for the Houston Independent School District.

When she returned to Natchez, her brother, Darnell Green, gently pushed her into law enforcement.

“Darnell was living here at the time, and we were looking at the paper and saw an advertisement for a probationary police officer and were discussing it,” she said. “He looked at me and said, ‘I bet you won’t apply for it.’ I told him, ‘I bet I will.’ He said, ‘I’ll bet you $100 you won’t apply for it.’ So I went and took the Civil Service test, and I passed it. Evidently, I scored pretty highly because they called me quickly, and a week later, I did the oral interview. A week later, I did the PT (physical ability) testing.

“Probably two weeks after that, I was in Harrison County at the academy and found myself thinking, ‘What just happened?’ ”

It was during the academy that Green realized law enforcement was the career for her.

“You get that click. The ‘this is it. This is where I should be,’ ” she said. “Now, it’s 25, 26 years later…”

Willie Huff was chief of police in Natchez when Green began her career. Huff, who retired to take a position with the Mississippi Department of Transportation, was a long-serving and well-respected police chief here.

“I love Willie Huff. We stay in touch even now. Lots of my management style is patterned after him. He was very much a hands-on chief. When we were out patrolling at night, as you would drive around, you would pass Willie Huff because he was out there, too,” she said.

In 2004, Green went to work for Adams County Sheriff Ronnie Brown, where she remained for 17 years before returning to the Natchez police force.

“All of my experience has been right here in Natchez and Adams County. I am not padding my resume to go anywhere else. I am home. I’m not going anywhere else,” she said. “I want my people so well trained they can step into leadership positions wherever they go. I want to train leaders. I don’t want to train workers. When I retire — which won’t be anytime soon — and go home and go to bed at night, I want to know I left people in charge that know what they are doing. I want to know they are doing the right thing for the people of Natchez. That’s the most important thing.”

Unwritten rivalry

“In 1997, when I started in law enforcement, it was already there  — different departments fighting with each other — and I never understood it. We are all trying to do the same thing. Why are we fighting about it?” she asked.

Already she has begun the work to mend fences with other departments with whom relationships have been tense in recent years.

“I have a unique perspective of having worked in the Natchez Police Department and in the Adams County Sheriff’s Office. Those are my people. Fighting with them would be like telling half my family they can’t come to the family reunion,” she said.

“I love the people in the sheriff’s office. The first text of congratulations I got, while I was still sitting in the audience at the meeting Tuesday, was from Sheriff Patten,” she said.

Former Natchez Police Chief Joseph Daughtry was more of a solo player and working well with other departments was not his priority. During his tenure, he made changes to the city’s communications system, which made it impossible for the sheriff’s deputies or any other department to hear city radio traffic, meaning they could not provide help if such was needed. That move defeated the intent of the combined E-911 system, which joined county and city dispatching in an effort for all departments to work together. It also deepened the divide between city police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

County and city elected officials also decried the move.

“We are definitely going to move back to shared radio traffic. However, that is going to cost money, just like it cost money to make the changes to separate things,” she said. “I’ve got to get a handle on what it’s going to cost and what we have in the budget.”

In the meantime, Green said she has asked E-911 dispatchers to ask all officers and deputies to move to an existing common channel when something happens that warrants a joint response.

“I’ve got to get for myself a handle on this budget and I’m doing that along with about five million other things,” she said.

Green said criminals don’t stay within one jurisdiction.

“It’s imperative that we work together, that we communicate. Not only the city police department and the sheriff’s department, but also the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Vidalia Police Department and the Ferriday Police Department.”

She said the sheriff’s investigative unit and NPD investigators routinely meet and share information. In addition, Green said she discussed with ACSO Chief Shane Daugherty recently about reviving the regional intelligence meetings, which include investigators from all of the Miss-Lou departments.

“Criminals tend to operate in the area as a whole. The days of one department against the others have go to cease. Crime these days no longer allow for petty grievances,” she said. “And as for rumors? Unless you bring a rumor along with the receipts, please just don’t bring it to me. If you don’t have something definitive, don’t. Just stop. I don’t play that.”

Times have changed, and so have criminals, she said.

“During summer nights like we are having now, when I was young, we would sleep on the screened in porch. We left our doors unlocked. And if someone came to your home and they saw your cars weren’t there, it would never occur to anyone to walk in your house. We had mutual respect for each other. That’s not the world we live in any longer,” Green said. “You have to help us help you. You have to take basic precautions.”

Her priorities

“Recruitment of officers is first and foremost. We could use about 15 officers now. Those are in the budget,” Green said. “We are working about four people on a shift right now. We try to keep the night shift at six or seven people if at all possible. With the city being broken into six beats, we really don’t have enough people to cover each beat. And the supervisor is trying to run around and touch every part of the city. During the daytime, administrators back officers up. Everybody answers calls, including me. I am not going to ask anyone to do anything I would not do myself.”

She praised Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson and the city’s Board of Aldermen for addressing the pay issue within the police department. Thanks to city officials, starting pay for officers is now $18 an hour.

“Kudos to the mayor. He really has gone to bat for the police department. I just found out that starting pay for fireman is $12 an hour. How do you support a family on that pay?” she asked.

Regardless of starting pay, Greens said the city’s police department is a great place for someone who seeks a career in law enforcement.

“We have paid insurance, meaning the employer pays insurance for the employee. If you have a family, you pay a portion of that cost, but it’s Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi and is one of the best in the state. We also have supplemental insurance that picks up the cost of the deductible. That is a huge savings.

“We have vision insurance and dental insurance and basic employee death benefit insurance, and you are able to purchase additional life and death insurance for yourself or your dependents,” she said.

One of the best benefits of public service in Mississippi is the Public Employee Retirement System, also known as PERS.

“PERS has a 30-year retirement, but for every five years that you serve, PERS credits you with an additional year. So, when you reach 25 years, they will give you credit for 30 years if you want to retire,” Green said.

Those interesting in joining the Natchez Police Department can go to the city’s website — natchez.ms.us — and follow the link to job opportunities and apply online.

Here is a link: https://www.natchez.ms.us/jobs.aspx

Green warns, while the need for police officers in Natchez is great, it’s not a job for everyone and one of the reason’s the deficit exists is because the department will not deviate from its standards for officers.

Advice she would give those who want to join the department?

“Go to your social media pages and clean them up before we start looking at you,” Green said. “If you are going to wear this uniform, you better not do anything that is going to dishonor this department. Part of our law enforcement code of ethics is ‘I will keep my private life unsullied.’ I tell officers all the time, imagine that there is a camera recording you. Don’t ever assume nobody is watching you. They are.”

Her officers held a surprise congratulations gathering for Green after being named permanent chief last week.

“Commander (Jerry) Ford got me out of the office and when we got back, it was all decorated. I felt so good. I think the atmosphere is just lighter. They know me and know I am fair. I expect them to tow the line and they know if they mess up, there will be consequences. But they also know I will go to war for my people.”