Top cop with double duty not unusual across U.S.|[11/17/07]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin is now in charge of all crimefighting efforts in the state’s capital city and county, and that’s a first for Mississippi.

The move, announced Friday, however, is not unusual. The consolidation of law enforcement duties has occurred in a handful of places nationwide.

In Nashville, a metro government with Davidson County has existed since 1963, with the county handling only corrections and civil functions. The same went into effect this year in Indianapolis, where that city merged police forces with Marion County after 35 years of unified government in every other department. Other cities with consolidated police departments include Las Vegas; Louisville, Ky.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Charlotte, N.C.

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Officials in Vicksburg, however, don’t expect to follow suit.

When asked what he thought about McMillin’s new job title, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace’s reaction was swift and decisive.

“Yes, I heard. And no!” he said of his desire to run two law enforcement agencies.

Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens regarded any notion of such an arrangement as unlikely, and Pace was equally skeptical of any local consolidation of law enforcement.

“I just can’t imagine it ever coming up,” Pace said.

In a surprise move Friday, Jackson Mayor Frank Melton tapped McMillin, a four-term sheriff who was re-elected overwhelmingly to a fifth term in the Democratic primary in August, to head the largest municipal police force in Mississippi. The department employs 409 people. Jackson has a population of about 184,000 and a crime rate of nearly twice the national norm.

McMillin, 62, a Natchez native, has a long law enforcement resume dating to 1972, when he became a Jackson police officer. He later served a term as a Hinds County constable and was an assistant on the Parole Board.

As an officer, McMillin was the first director for two notable programs in Jackson. One was the first Crimestoppers program and the other was Inner City Action Group for Jackson, which used nonviolent offenders to pay restitution by performing community service.

First elected sheriff in 1991, McMillin has overseen the construction of a new jail in Raymond. A penal farm to house 398 inmates is expected to begin operation.

“I’ve known him for 15 years. He’s a fine, competent individual,” said Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett, an oft-mentioned candidate for the job as Jackson’s police chief since becoming Vicksburg’s chief in 2001. “There’s no question about his ability.”

McMillin replaces Jackson Police Chief Shirline Anderson, removed by Melton from her post this week.

In 2006, Melton and McMillin’s professional paths crossed, as Melton was arrested for destroying a duplex thought to be a haven for drug activity. He was acquitted in August 2006 of criminal charges relating to the incident. Two bodyguards named in the incident, Michael Recio and Marcus Wright, were recently elevated to high-ranking positions in the police department.

Melton had campaigned in 2005 on promises to clean up crime and root out drugs. His zeal led to unorthodox behavior for a mayor, including carrying guns in plain view and participating in crime checkpoints.

Though McMillin’s official blessing as police chief must come from the city council, early indications are that he will coast to the board’s approval.

In a report this year by Morgan Quitno Press, Jackson was rated, when it comes to crime, the 14th most dangerous city in the United States out of 354 cities of all sizes.

According to FBI crime statistics, Jackson led the state’s cities with populations greater than 10,000 in all categories, including 40 murders and 514 aggravated assaults. Vicksburg was second in the latter category, with 163.

Moffett said the Vicksburg force has a “better handle on crime” than the state capital, adding that when crime trends go up, “they go up everywhere.”

McMillin’s new job title is one Jackson officials said they had been thinking about for some time. It was not known how McMillin would be paid, but cops and county deputies would be given the authority to enforce both city and county ordinances.