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Law enforcement organization brings ambitious agenda

Raymond — The new Mississippi Center for Police and Sheriffs (MCPS) is officially underway, and members are already at work to meet its five-part mission. Perhaps the keyword in its title is “center” as it looks to offer a unified voice for all law enforcement personnel and agencies, a forum for the exchange of ideas and a cost-effective in-state location for training to improve agency effectiveness and aid professional development of officers.

“Historically, we have had two separate organizations — the Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association and the Mississippi Association of Police Chiefs,” said Capt. Steve Pickett with the Hinds County Sheriffs Department who has played a leading role in the formation of the MCPS. “We needed a combined voice. Teachers have unions. Lawyers have associations. Why not law enforcement?”

Range of issues

While the formation of a unified association had long been discussed, two events proved a catalyst. One was Hurricane Katrina. In the wake of the nation’s largest natural disaster, the need for various law enforcement agencies to cooperate effectively was made more than evident. Law enforcement administrators have to be able to communicate their needs and assistance in a timely manner for unity to achieve goals that affect small as well as large law enforcement agencies.

The other event involved a discussion with Nick Walters, who heads up the USDA Rural Development in Mississippi. An agency was attempting to procure needed equipment and asked Walters if his agency could help. Walters said it would, but there needed to be a nonprofit organization in place in order to qualify for and receive funding. Thus, the MCPS was formed as a nonprofit, opening the door for grants and other funding assistance.

The mission of the MCPS is:

• To develop and disseminate improved administrative and technical practices to meet the needs of law enforcement officers statewide.

• To promote the exchange of information to law enforcement representatives.

• To promote the professional development of law enforcement representatives through educational programs to encourage growth and advancement in their careers.

• To organize and coordinate Law Enforcement Memorial week activities and memorial services and tributes.

• To promote a stronger relationship between the business community and law enforcement through the “We’re Behind the Badge” campaign.

Business + law enforcement

“When a merchant suffers a loss, that shouldn’t be the first time he meets his local law enforcement officer,” Pickett said.

Growing stronger relationships between the business community and law enforcement is one of the missions of the MCPS, and it has developed the “We’re Behind the Badge” campaign the meet that mission’s goal.

Duane A. O’Neill, president and CEO of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce, has played a leading role in developing the campaign. The issue was at the fore of O’Neill’s mind when interviewed July 14. The day before, he and the chamber came out publicly and said Jackson Mayor Frank Melton’s state of emergency, a move the mayor said will help fight crime in the Capital City, was hurting their efforts to attract new and expanded businesses.

“Obviously, it is absolutely necessary to have a strong relationship between law enforcement and the business community,” O’Neill said. “That’s where it all starts, and that’s why we are involved in the ‘We’re Behind the Badge’ campaign.”

The campaign officially got underway last May with the Police Memorial and Appreciation Day, which the MetroJackson Chamber sponsored. Not only were fallen law enforcements remembered and honored, but top-performing officers were recognized, as well.

O’Neill said the program was just the first effort of the campaign, but other efforts would follow the same general theme.

“What the campaign offers is an opportunity for the business community to show its appreciation for the dedication and sacrifices made by law enforcement officers,” O’Neill said. “We want the business folks to not only know their law enforcement officers, but count them as friends.”
O’Neill added that the campaign, though launched, was still being developed. However, he already envisions rolling the campaign out to other chambers and communities around the state.

“I think the other chambers will be thrilled to have this in their community,” he said. “By that time, we will have a track record, know what worked and what didn’t. Communities might be different, but I think the ‘We’re Behind the Badge’ campaign will work everywhere.”

Learning to serve

Yet another mission of the MCPS is to foster professional development among law enforcement personnel for growth and career advancement. And, the MCPS has that mission well underway through a new agreement with Hinds Community College’s (HCC’s) Eagle Ridge Conference and Training Center in Raymond.

Pickett said one of the challenges faced by law enforcement agencies, particularly smaller ones, was how to train their officers. Training budgets, if they exist at all, are tight. And, many of these seminars require extensive travel — the courses could be offered anywhere. Throw in money for food and lodging, and many of these programs became cost prohibitive to attend.

According to Gay Saxon, coordinator of training services at Eagle Ridge, Pickett approached Dr. John Woods, vice president of economic development and training at HCC, approximately two years ago about offering Eagle Ridge as a centralized location for law enforcement training programs.

Not only was Eagle Ridge’s centralized location attractive, cutting down on travel expenses, it also offers onsite accommodations, reducing lodging costs, as well.
After Katrina made landfall last August, talks between Pickett, Woods, Saxon and HCC president Dr. Clyde Muse were ratcheted up. Saxon said Muse was thrilled with the proposition, and backed it wholeheartedly. With that, the deal was cemented and extended — the MCPS is now headquartered in an office at Eagle Ridge.

The MCPS has identified courses it wants offered immediately. These include internal affairs investigation and workplace violence prevention, partnering with the Attorney General’s Office recently launched campaign to fight violence in the workplace.

Other topics being planned or discussed include school violence prevention and courtroom security.
Initially, these classes will be led by certified, experienced law enforcement trainers from around the country. However, Eagle Ridge/HCC may provide the trainers as well as the venue in the future.

For Eagle Ridge, this type of program is exactly why it was established. That is satisfying enough for Muse, but it is especially rewarding that HCC is supporting law enforcement personnel who put their lives on the line routinely for all Mississippians.

At a breakfast in May when the partnership was announced, Muse said, “We are excited with the opportunity to partner with the local sheriff’s department to provide professional development of law enforcement officers.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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