Jury suggests all drug cases go to county

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 1, 2002

[11/01/02]In a novel recommendation, members of the October grand jury wrote a report suggesting the Warren County Sheriff’s Department handle all local narcotics cases as a money-saving step.

“Funds could be given to one department instead of two, and you could save money that way,” a grand juror said.

Grand jurors indicated their recommendation was not meant to slight the Vicksburg Police Department’s handling of drug cases. “We were impressed with the job they did,” another said of both local law-enforcement agencies.

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Asked whether the recommendation to consolidate the two agencies’ jurisdictions for narcotics enforcement was suggested to them only by an official, one juror said the panel “came up with it on our own.”

The sheriff’s department has criminal jurisdiction throughout the entire county, including within the city limits of Vicksburg. Police Chief Tommy Moffett said that while he welcomes any narcotics enforcement by the sheriff’s department within the city limits, he would be opposed to the police department’s not also enforcing narcotics laws in the same area.

“I have responsibility to the people within the Vicksburg corporate limits,” he said. “I would be opposed to not having a full-service police department. If we didn’t have a narcotics unit, we wouldn’t be a full-service police department.”

Sheriff Martin Pace said that, with countywide jurisdiction, his department “occasionally works cases in the city limits anyway, but it’s never been discussed that the city would play a diminished role in narcotics enforcement.”

“Chief Moffett and I work well together where both agencies are involved in joint operations,” he said.

In addition to weighing evidence in felony criminal cases, grand juries are charged with reviewing crime and law enforcement generally and inspecting the books and records of public officials and the condition of public buildings.

They typically have the opportunity to meet with city or county public officials of their choosing. This week’s grand jury, which was in session Monday through Thursday in the Warren County Courthouse, met with Pace, Moffett, Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens, Warren County Board of Supervisors President Richard George, Supervisors Bill Lauderdale, Michael Mayfield and David McDonald, Warren County Prosecutor Johnny Price and District Attorney Gil Martin.

The panel that delivered its report Thursday was the last of four scheduled for this year.

Judge Isadore Patrick, who presided over the grand jury’s session, said county and city authorities take the recommendations seriously.

“They try to implement those that they can,” he said, adding that they are sometimes limited by financial and legal restraints.

In other matters, the panel:

Recommended that the Board of Supervisors “pursue the authorization of road traffic radar by Warren County Law Enforcement.”

Recommended that greater emphasis be placed on the “involvement of our Youth in Community Affairs,” suggesting Leyens promote programs such as those involving volunteer mentors.

Recommended “better maintenance of our public playgrounds.”

Recommended that “the appropriate government entity explore the feasibility of the seizure of property owned by convicted felons.”

Recommended that a “Consent to Search” form be made mandatory for any search by law-enforcement officers.

The grand jury also echoed its predecessors in:

Commending Pace and his staff for their “excellent service” and “cleanliness and upkeep of the jail.”

Commending Moffett for positive changes made “in the reorganization of the Police Department” and the increased emphasis on basic-skills training for officers, and recommended that such training continue.

Recommending that all citizens “join in an outcry to their state and local representatives to fund programs that will enable the Youth Services to perform their jobs effectively.”