Five policemen promoted

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 12, 2010

Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong announced the promotion of five officers during a noon ceremony at police headquarters Thursday, a first after nearly a decade.

Patrol officers Penny Branch and Milton Moore along with investigators Larry Burns, Johnnie Edwards and Jeff Merritt were advanced to the rank of sergeant.

“My decision wasn’t hard at all. These individuals were left standing because they excelled,” Armstrong said.

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After being on the force for nine years, Edwards is moving from the criminal investigations division to internal affairs.

“Anywhere the department needs me, I’m going to give my 100 percent,” Edwards said.

Merritt, who has been on the force for about 16 years, will remain in the narcotics division.

“I’ve been acting supervisor for two years, and now it’s official,” he said.

Burns, Branch and Moore will be watch commanders for B, C and D shifts, respectively.

“I’ve been working as a senior patrol officer for the past few years. The difference is I will be a watch commander,” said Branch. “It’s going to be a small challenge, but I’m ready.”

Twenty-three policemen applied for the promotions, but only five positions were budgeted, Armstrong said.

“Sergeants are our first-line supervisors,” said Armstrong.

Mayor Paul Winfield agreed. He told the new sergeants, “You are in your place because we need you to be,” and reminded them of their increased responsibilities.

“Vicksburg Police Department has been putting Vicksburg, Mississippi, on the map,” Winfield said. “That is not going unnoticed. People feel safer in Vicksburg. More importantly, they are safer.”

The remaining eight officers who passed are not guaranteed a promotion but will remain eligible for a year, he said.

“This is something that has not happened in nine years since Chief (Mitchell) Dent was the chief of police,” said Armstrong. “During this entire last administration, no one was promoted.”

Interviewed later, former Chief Tommy Moffett said he did not promote because the department had 45 supervisors when he was hired.

“It had gotten to a point where I only had promotions no one could look forward to,” said Moffett. “There would be 12 people on a shift, and five would be supervisors.”

He said half of the department were sergeants or higher.

After advertising for 30 days, the department began offering a four-part exam, which consisted of a written inquiry, oral interview, personnel file review and practical test.

“Basically, what we’re looking for on the file review is to verify their training,” said Armstrong.

Officials from Jackson, Ridgeland and Madison police departments and Hinds County interviewed the Vicksburg officials for the spots, he said.

Patrolmen are required to have at least three years of experience as an officer and two with the Vicksburg police — four total years with three of them in Vicksburg was a minimum.

 “These are positions that are open and need to be filled. And at the same time, people are here working year after year and not seeing anyone get promoted,” he said.

The department now has 78 sworn officers, up from about 63 when Armstrong was hired in July. One of his goals, and Moffett’s, was to increase the force.

“It’s been very difficult to recruit and even more difficult to retain,” said Armstrong. He said the department will, “ultimately have between 80 and 82 police officers.” A 10-year-old study identified the proper complement as 85.

Six patrolmen were hired about three months ago and went to the Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Academy on Jan. 18, he said.

Contact Tish Butts at