Moffett wants police to build relationships with residents

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Vicksburg Police Officer Johnnie Edwards patrols Drummond Street portion of his beat.(C. Todd Sherman The Vicksburg Post)

[5/13/2003]Patrolling an area again and again can be boring. But Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett expects his officers to adopt a different attitude.

Moffett, chief here since October 2001, said he expects officers to take more initiative toward meeting the needs of the areas they patrol.

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“My philosophy is that I want the entire department” to form working relationships with residents in a “non-enforcement manner,” with crime-prevention as the goal, he said.

One of the changes Moffett said he has made in the department’s operations is stricter application of the beat system, in which each officer is assigned an area of the city to patrol. Formerly, officers were permitted to leave their beats when not on a call for service, he said. Now, response times are improved, and calls from citizens have changed from mainly negative to about 90 percent positive, Moffett said.

In staffing a police department, a commonly used formula allocates officers’ time available for field patrol one-third each to responding to calls for service; crime-prevention, community relations and related activities; and administrative duties such as writing reports and conferring with supervisors, an International Association of Chiefs of Police study said.

Moffett said he had not set any such targets for how officers use their time, but that time must be made available for crime-prevention efforts. “If you’re going from call to call, you’re handling too many calls,” he said.

Another of Moffett’s highest priorities on taking office was to put the department’s officers through much more training. During a six-month period shortly after they arrived, he and O’Bannon arranged officers’ schedules to allow each of them to spend the equivalent of one in six months in training.

The pattern of comments on the VPD from the county’s quarterly grand juries, among whose duties are to both hear evidence in criminal cases and review crime and law-enforcement generally in the city and county, shows a change around the time Moffett took office. Eight of the nine panels immediately before Moffett took office recommended additional training or improvement in the department’s presentation of evidence in criminal cases or related tasks. All six convened after Moffett’s first quarter as chief, however, have made positive comments on his work, urging that he continue his focus on “basic skills training” and commending his reorganization of the department.

Despite such reported improvements, however, breakdowns have occurred. The most visible cases may have been two sets of burglaries earlier this year, one each north and south of the city on U.S. 61.

In one, seven businesses were burglarized over a mile-and-a-half stretch and, in the other, $47,000 worth of four-wheelers were stolen from a business.

Those burglaries “should not have happened,” Moffett said, adding that “some (officer) wasn’t doing their job.” The chief said, though, that since they occurred, “you haven’t seen anything else happen on 61, north or south.”

The department’s expectations of not only its officers but also related criminal-justice-system personnel have been revised under Moffett’s management. Traffic citations given to citizens, for example, were once able to be “fixed” by officers without the cases’ being presented to a judge. Moffett changed that, requiring all such cases to be presented by the city prosecutor to a municipal court judge for action. The action has ensured maintenance of a more complete paper trail, city prosecutor Bobby Robinson said.

And Moffett has protested in open court two plea deals offered defendants by District Attorney Gil Martin. An improved communication procedure between the two has resulted from the public disagreement, both have said.

“We’ve never had a chief that showed that much interest in the outcome” of felony cases submitted to the district attorney’s office, Martin said. Individual detectives, but never the chief himself, had wanted to be kept abreast of plea negotiations, he added.

Moffett said citizens have commented to him that they see more officers on the street, when in fact “they’re seeing the same officer” more times, he said.

“But my focus is not about the officer; it’s about service to the public,” he said. “If an officer is motivated, he can find all kinds of things to do to provide public service.”