Mark Culbertson marks 28 years at Vicksburg Police Department|[12/10/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 12, 2005

When his father transferred to International Paper Company from Pine Bluff, Ark., almost 40 years ago, Mark Culbertson was expected to follow in his footsteps.

But he had other plans.

&#8220It was always expected that I was going to be a paper mill man,” Culbertson said. &#8220There was just one problem – I always wanted to be a policeman.”

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So when he turned 21, he walked into the Vicksburg Police Department at Walnut and Clay streets, filled out an application, took a test and was hired four weeks later.

&#8220I started on the night shift, working 8-4,” Culbertson said. &#8220My first night, I had everything on wrong. That was a long night.”

And it was a long time ago – 28 years, to be exact. He wasn’t even finished growing.

&#8220I was a scrapping 5 feet 9 inches tall and 140 pounds, with long hair,” Culbertson said, now 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. &#8220I knew as much about law-enforcement as a 2-year-old. I literally had on-the-job training.”

He was immediately quizzed on street names his first night as a patrolman. It didn’t go well.

&#8220We were going over streets my first night, talking about what I knew about town,” Culbertson said. &#8220I knew where Washington Street was and Clay Street was. That was it.”

When he joined the police force Dec. 7, 1977, Culbertson was paid $674.10 a month. (Today it’s $3,558.) The police department had five or six patrol cars for about 35 officers, few hand-held radios and no technology. Travis T. Vance Sr. was mayor.

Culbertson laughed when recalling his early years with the Vicksburg Police Department.

&#8220One night, all our patrol cars were broken down, so we borrowed a couple of cars from Atwood to do patrol,” he said. &#8220Technology? Technology in 1977 was nonexistent. Everything was done by hand, and we had an index-card filing system for criminal records.”

He also remembered a suspect shooting at him for the first time in his young career.

&#8220I was investigating a report of shots fired at a house on South Street at 2 p.m.,” he said. &#8220As soon as I knocked on the door, a rifle came out the door and he fired a shot. I found myself on the other side of a car. I don’t know how I got over there. I got a vest after that, and I have worn one every day since.”

His partner bailed on him during the shooting, Culbertson said, and gave a stranger his police radio.

&#8220This man walks up with my partner’s radio and asks me if I needed any help,” he said. &#8220I guess when people are shooting at you, it does something to you.”

But it wasn’t the only time Culbertson has flirted with death.

&#8220I was almost killed in an accident at Cherry Street and East Avenue in 1981,” he said. &#8220I was going to a burglary in progress when a drunk driver ran me off the road. That one really messed me up, and I nearly died.”

Other on-the-job incidents led Culbertson to the hospital &#8220numerous times” for injuries to his arms, legs, knees, jaw, ribs and hands. An off-duty accident on Mississippi 27 during heavy rain one evening also nearly cost Culbertson his life. He didn’t realize until the next morning, after going to the hospital, that his neck was broken.

&#8220I’ve been beat and banged up pretty good,” he said. &#8220They say the good Lord takes care of drunks and fools. I don’t know where I fall in that category, but he has certainly taken care of me.”

Despite close calls with death and too many injuries to count, Culbertson continues to report to work.

&#8220I’ve always tried to put the job first,” he said. &#8220I’ve always tried to be enthusiastic about my job. Vicksburg is home, and I care about people I work for. That tends to show in how you do your job.”

Retirement was an option three years ago, but Culbertson decided to keep working.

&#8220I could have retired at 25 years on the force, but I will probably do this as long as I can make a difference.”

Culbertson graduated from Warren Central High School in 1973. He married at 17 and bought his first house at 18 on Cairo Drive. By the time he joined the Vicksburg Police Department, he had 2- and 4-year-old sons.

&#8220I started everything early,” Culbertson said.

He was a patrolman for 10 years before becoming detective in November 1987. He was promoted to captain in January 1997, having worked for eight police chiefs: Tommy Moffett, Mitchell Dent, Robert Dowe, Herman Reddick, Jimmy Brooks, Lamar Davidson, Charles Davenport and A.J. &#8220Buddy” Holiday.