• 48°

Utica native says he can’t forget roots

Maj. Marvin E. Curtis Jr., the incoming chief of the Highway Safety Patrol appointed by Gov.-elect Haley Barbour, leans against a 1937 Ford in the lobby of the patrol headquarters in Jackson.(Jenny Sevcik The Vicksburg Post)

[1/12/04]JACKSON Twenty-seven years ago, Marvin Curtis Jr. was sworn in to patrol the streets of Utica, his Hinds County hometown. Tuesday, he takes over as chief of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol, an agency with 500 more employees than Utica has residents.

“I know of no one within the ranks of the highway patrol more qualified to hold the job than Marvin Curtis,” said Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace. “I have known Marvin for more than 25 years and know him to be absolutely professional in his service to the public with unquestioned integrity.”

Curtis, 48, said listening and serving will be his goals when he rises in rank from major to colonel effective as Gov.-elect Haley Barbour, who appointed him, takes the oath of office as the state’s 62nd governor. Curtis will succeed Col. L.M. Claiborne Jr., who was appointed by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

“Today, because of the war on terror, public safety includes national security and homeland security,” Barbour said in announcing his selection of Curtis. “Public safety must be a top priority for our state, and law enforcement officials deserve the full support of the governor.”

Growing up in Utica, population 1,000, Curtis attended Rebul Academy in nearby Learned. He then attended Bob Jones University where he majored in Bible. Faith remains an intrinsic part of his daily life.

“Sometime we have our priorities mixed up,” Curtis said. “I had mine mixed up for a while: job, family and then the Lord. But after a while, that didn’t work. The priorities are the Lord, family and then the job. When all that got in perspective, things started working out for me.”

Professionally, he is a graduate of the basic police officer’s course at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officer Training Academy, the Mississippi Highway Patrol Academy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy.

After his start in Utica, Curtis moved to Vicksburg and the police department here for about two years. He then joined the Warren County Sheriff’s Department, first in uniform as a patrol deputy and later as an investigator.

He left Warren County for the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol in 1982.

“I’ve been through every rank with the highway patrol, including lieutenant colonel when I was assistant chief of patrol,” Curtis said during an interview in the Jackson headquarters office where he was working as director of Driver Services.

The MHSP has 1,500 sworn officers operating in nine districts across the state. It is a branch of the Department of Public Safety that has many divisions from patrol to the state Crime Lab, the Law Enforcement Training Academy, Office of the Medical Examiner, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation.

Rusty Fortenberry, 44, an attorney from Mendenhall and former district attorney, was tapped by Barbour as commissioner of Public Safety.

When Curtis joined the patrol, he was assigned to Warren County. In the 21 years since, he has served as tactical officer for three cadet schools and a field training officer, an investigator, director of Internal Affairs, director of Executive Security, assistant chief of patrol, the major of the Northern Region and deputy director of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations.

“My main philosophy is I never forgot where I came from,” Curtis said after saying he was honored to be selected by Barbour. “My foundation, of course, is with the Utica Police Department, the Vicksburg Police Department.”

Curtis said he wants to work with local agencies, MHSP employees and the press during his tenure.

“We’ve got a good relationship now, but building a better relationship with other officers, with other departments and agencies,” he described as something he wants to do. “I understand the importance of being able to work together.”

Also, “Law enforcement and the news media can work together,” Curtis said.

To build the relationships will require more listening than talking, he said.

“Some of the best ideas come from those who are in the trenches,” he said, including both troopers and civilian employees. “We all have a position and each position is important.”

The rationale for enforcing traffic laws can’t be forgotten, he said. Often people see only the negative side of men and women in uniform pointing radar devices and flipping on blue lights. “They don’t realize we are out there for a purpose, to save lives,” he said.