Pace says add patrols but not inside city|[2/11/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 11, 2005

Sheriff Martin Pace told supervisors Thursday he would like to add more patrol personnel, but not specifically to work inside Vicksburg.

The discussion about staffing followed a Monday motion by District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon to boost the department’s $2.4 million budget by $25,000. The Warren County Board of Supervisors meets informally on Thursdays.

Pace said he has never failed to respond to a request for help from city law enforcement since he took office in 1996. “They are residents of the county, too,” Pace said of people who live inside Vicksburg’s corporate limits.

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He said he normally has four or five deputies on duty per shift to patrol and respond to calls countywide.

When asked if that number should be higher, Pace said it should. “Ideally, I would like to have one more uniformed deputy per shift,” Pace said, taking the number to six.

Even if that occurred, Pace said it would be irresponsible to place a deputy on patrol inside the city and deprive county residents who have no other law enforcement recourse than the sheriff’s department. Vicksburg covers 33 square miles and includes about half the population of Warren County, which totals 587 square miles.

Selmon, an announced candidate for mayor, said he offered the motion due to constituent complaints about police staffing levels.

“The problem is where do they turn to when they have a complaint about the police department,” he said. His motion died for lack of a second. Pace said he knew nothing in advance about the idea, nor did Mayor Laurence Leyens or Police Chief Tommy Moffett.

Leyens called Selmon’s motion “political” and “destructive” and Moffett said statements made in a press release issued by Selmon were not true, specifically that the police department sometimes has only four officers on duty.

Staffing at the police department has been reduced from about 102 sworn officers four years ago to about 68 today. Moffett has said the ideal number would be about 75.

The patrol portion of the sheriff’s budget is about $1.1 million and the police budget is $5.7 million. District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders asked Pace what it would cost for the sheriff’s department to place a deputy on patrol inside the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Considering the starting salary and benefits for a deputy are $35,627, buying and equipping a vehicle would cost about $29,000 and supplying uniforms, personal gear and weapon would cost another $7,500, plus other expenses, the cost would be about $71,000 a year for one person on one shift, Pace said.

“That would be about $280,000 a year for three shifts,” said David McDonald, board president and District 1 supervisor.

In a separate matter, the board reached a consensus to leave the Kings Point Ferry closed at the discretion of the road manager.

Richard Winans, the manager, said some of the roads on Kings Point are still cut off by water and all are still extremely wet from the flooding. As a result, any traffic would cause extensive damage unless the roads are allowed to dry more.

The ferry had been closed due to high water as the Mississippi River rose toward a crest of 44.3 feet. It normally resumes operations when the river drops to about 39 feet. The ferry serves privately owned timber, farming and hunting land that became isolated when the Yazoo Diversion Canal was excavated in 1904.