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Changes expected to help police, fire departments

Vicksburg Police Officers, from left, Robert Stewart, Rick Jordan, Norman Harris, E.J. Wilkerson, Bo McLeod, Gary Cooper and Taffi Mills form the newly combined Neighborhood Enhancement Team and K-9 Unit of the Vicksburg Police Department. The dogs are Drake, left, a Labrador retriever, and Lex, a German shepherd.(The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[08/06/01] Vicksburg’s top cop and chief firefighter expect easier recruiting now that city officials have rescinded a policy requiring civil service employees to live nearby.

The change will go into effect Oct. 1, meaning police and firefighters will no longer have to reside in Warren County and may commute from the Jackson area or elsewhere.

“This will open up more windows of opportunity for people to came to work here,” said Police Chief Mitchell Dent.

A city ordinance passed in 1997 said fire and police officers had to live within 50 miles of City Hall. It was amended in 1999 to require that all full-time civil service employees of the Vicksburg police and fire departments be residents of Warren County, inside or outside the city limits, within six months of being hired.

Dent and Fire Chief Kevin Westbrook had asked the city board last month to consider doing away with the ordinance because, they said, it made hiring difficult.

Dent said the change will make it easier for people from other communities to look at working in Vicksburg because they can commute.

“They won’t have to uproot families and children,” he said.

Westbrook said the department is short three firefighters per shift.

He said that since the policy went into effect, the number of applicants dropped from 30 to 40 a year to about 10. The number drops again after a physical agility test and the civil service written exam.

“Sometimes you only get three or four out of that group that work out,” Westbrook said. And, he said, there are not enough people now eligible for hire to take the department from its current 108 to the budgeted 117.

Dent said his department, five officers short of the budgeted 108, has faced a similar problem.

Numbers provided by the city personnel department indicate that since the stricter residency policy went into effect in 1999, 38 officers and other employees have left the police department and 22 firefighters have left.

Dent and Westbrook said the new policy will also save the city money because officers already working for other Mississippi police or fire departments who have already been trained will be more likely to come to work in Vicksburg since they will not be required to move.

Those officers and firefighters that are already trained will not have to attend the state’s 10-week police academy which costs the city $2,500 per officer or six-week fire academy which costs $1,200 per firefighter.

“We’re in a very competitive market now for people,” Dent said.

Dent and Westbrook said pay is not an issue since the city is in the top ten in the state in starting salary for police and firefighters. Both departments start employees at the same pay, about $25,000 a year.

Both said they hoped the new policy would not only increase recruitment, but also bring stronger applicants to Vicksburg.Vicksburg’s top cop and chief firefighter expect easier recruiting now that city officials have rescinded a policy requiring civil service employees to live nearby.

The change will go into effect Oct. 1, meaning police and firefighters will no longer have to reside in Warren County and may commute from the Jackson area or elsewhere.

“This will open up more windows of opportunity for people to came to work here,” said Police Chief Mitchell Dent.

A city ordinance passed in 1997 said fire and police officers had to live within 50 miles of City Hall. It was amended in 1999 to require that all full-time civil service employees of the Vicksburg police and fire departments be residents of Warren County, inside or outside the city limits, within six months of being hired.

Dent and Fire Chief Kevin Westbrook had asked the city board last month to consider doing away with the ordinance because, they said, it made hiring difficult.

Dent said the change will make it easier for people from other communities to look at working in Vicksburg because they can commute.

“They won’t have to uproot families and children,” he said.

Westbrook said the department is short three firefighters per shift.

He said that since the policy went into effect, the number of applicants dropped from 30 to 40 a year to about 10. The number drops again after a physical agility test and the civil service written exam.

“Sometimes you only get three or four out of that group that work out,” Westbrook said. And, he said, there are not enough people now eligible for hire to take the department from its current 108 to the budgeted 117.

Dent said his department, five officers short of the budgeted 108, has faced a similar problem.

Numbers provided by the city personnel department indicate that since the stricter residency policy went into effect in 1999, 38 officers and other employees have left the police department and 22 firefighters have left.

Dent and Westbrook said the new policy will also save the city money because officers already working for other Mississippi police or fire departments who have already been trained will be more likely to come to work in Vicksburg since they will not be required to move.

Those officers and firefighters that are already trained will not have to attend the state’s 10-week police academy which costs the city $2,500 per officer or six-week fire academy which costs $1,200 per firefighter.

“We’re in a very competitive market now for people,” Dent said.

Dent and Westbrook said pay is not an issue since the city is in the top ten in the state in starting salary for police and firefighters. Both departments start employees at the same pay, about $25,000 a year.

Both said they hoped the new policy would not only increase recruitment, but also bring stronger applicants to Vicksburg.