Police department ‘younger’ than when Dent was chief

Published 12:02 pm Friday, July 30, 2010

The nature of fighting crime hasn’t changed much in the nine years since newly installed Deputy Chief Mitchell Dent was last on the Vicksburg force. What has changed, Dent said, is the age of the average crimefighter.

“Our department is now a very young department,” Dent said as guest speaker of the Port City Kiwanis Club Thursday morning, “but we’re making sure that our young officers have the adequate training to become seasoned officers in the field.”

Dent, who was chief until months before leaving the department in 2001, said the department has brought back a field training period for cops fresh out of the academy, during which the rookies ride along with experienced officers for a few months before being allowed to patrol on their own.

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“The field training officer evaluates what the new officer has learned in the academy and gives them the benefit of their experience,” Dent explained. “The younger officer also has an opportunity to teach the older officer a little bit about the new techniques being taught at the academy and the lingo of the younger generation. So, it’s really beneficial for both officers.”

The ranks of the department have risen to 79 since Police Chief Walter Armstrong took the reins a year ago, up from about 65. While about a half dozen experienced officers have come to Vicksburg from other departments across the state, most of the rookie cops are aged somewhere been 21 to 25, Dent said. Studies have recommended 85 sworn officers for the city.

Dent, 54, started as a patrolman with Vicksburg department in 1982, and worked his way up the ranks to chief. He was in the top spot for about a year and half before being replaced by Tommy Moffett in late 2001. He was tapped by Armstrong in early June to return to the department as deputy chief over department operations. After resigning from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where he worked as a fraud investigator since 2004, Dent was sworn in on June 21.

“I’m very pleased to be back with the Vicksburg Police Department,” Dent said. “When you start a career in something like police work, it really gets in your blood.”

Along with pairing new recruits with experienced cops, Dent said some of the policies and procedures being reviewed at the department also will result in a more professional force overall. Among the policies being reviewed, he said, is appearance.

“If I’m going to take a report from you, I really don’t need a tongue piercing…or a nose ring,” Dent used as an example. “What we want to do is present the most professional officers possible. Police work is not just a job, and you can’t treat it as just a job.”

Also being looked at is the cell phone policy for officers. Currently, officers can use personal cell phones while on patrol. Dent said the department likely will move toward a policy where only hands-free cell phones are allowed, and noted some cell phone use by officers is work-related and necessary.

“The key element in all of this is safety,” he said.