Former Chief Dent picked for PD spot in hushed meeting

Published 12:04 pm Thursday, June 10, 2010

Without any discussion or announcement, former Police Chief Mitchell Dent was quietly hired Monday as a deputy chief by the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen in a closed session.

Dent will take over the position vacated by Deputy Chief Jeffrey Scott, who resigned without explanation in March, just six months after leaving the Jackson Police Department to join the Vicksburg force. Dent likely will be sworn in in the next two weeks, said Police Chief Walter Armstrong, who recommended him for the job.

“Mr. Dent will be an asset to the VPD and help me lead the department in the direction I want to take it,” Armstrong said. “We have high expectations.”

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Dent, 54, had been police chief for about a year and a half when he was replaced in 2001 by Tommy Moffett — who was last year replaced by Armstrong. Dent began his career in law enforcement in his native Hattiesburg and worked his way to top of the ranks in Vicksburg after joining the department in 1982. He stayed on with VPD as a captain over crime scene investigations for a few months after being replaced by Moffett, but eventually resigned.

Since 2004, Dent said he’s been working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a fraud investigator. He said he will resign that post before re-joining the police department.

“I’m excited about the things Chief Armstrong and I have discussed thus far, and I’m looking forward to getting back to work as a police officer,” Dent said on Wednesday by phone from West Virginia, where he was on assignment.

Unlike the appointments of Deputy Chiefs Scott and John Dolan last fall — which included an open discussion of Armstrong’s recommendations at a September mayor and aldermen meeting followed by a public swearing-in ceremony on Oct. 1 — officials did not even announce Dent’s appointment after their closed session Monday. Only after being questioned by The Vicksburg Post on Wednesday did they offer any comments.

Armstrong said no formal announcement about Dent’s appointment was made on Monday due to Dent being out of town. He added a public swearing-in ceremony might take place if it fits into Dent’s schedule.

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said there was also no discussion.

“I had no idea it was even on the agenda,” Beauman said. “I got passed an action form with (Dent’s) name on it and that was the first I’d heard of it. I passed it to the mayor without signing it, he signed it, Michael (Mayfield) signed it, and that was it.” Beauman said, he did not sign off on it because, “I just don’t know if bringing him back in that position is a smart move.”

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said Armstrong first mentioned Dent’s name to him for the deputy chief job “sometime last week,” and was told he had the best credentials among several candidates.

“He’s been there before and he’s very much aware of how that department runs,” Mayfield said. “I think he did a very good job while he was there, and I have no doubt that he will do a good job again.”

When asked for a comment on Dent’s appointment, Mayor Paul Winfield simply said he supports Armstrong’s recommendation.

“This was the chief’s choice and, of course, I support my chief because he has done a very good job of leading the police department,” Winfield said. “Mitchell Dent has a strong educational and law enforcement background, and he has a strong history with our police department.”

Dent likely will be paid more as a deputy chief than he did as chief nine years ago. When he left the department his salary was reported as $52,400 annually. Armstrong said he expects Dent to start his new appointment at the same pay Scott and Dolan received when hired, about $68,000 per year.

Armstrong said Dent will oversee all department operations, as Scott did during his short time with the VPD, and also will work to get the department accredited on the state and national levels. The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies is the only accreditation organization nationwide, while state accreditation is garnered through the Mississippi Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission.

“It’s a huge project. Only about 12 departments in the state are accredited,” Armstrong said. “There’s a lot of benefits of it. One, it brings more credibility to the department, and it also allows you to upgrade all of your policies and procedures inside the department. There’s also the possibility of getting a reduction on our insurance rates.”

An added layer or two of oversight also would be provided by achieving accreditation, said Armstrong, as both the state and national programs require continual performance reviews to ensure compliance with minimum standards. Dent said getting state and national accreditation was something he began working on during his time as chief, and is excited to have the opportunity to finish the job.

“We started looking at it, but we never had the chance to get it in place,” Dent said. “It’s an excellent program, and I hope we can get it done this time.”

Outside his work in law enforcement, Dent and his wife, Deborah, in 2001 founded Mount Carmel Ministries on Grove Street, where both are pastors.

Moffett, who retired as chief in Biloxi before being appointed and serving eight years here, is now chief in Indianola. Former Vicksburg Deputy Chief Richard O’Bannon has joined him as deputy chief in that city.