Officer Next Door program to start in Waltersville

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 29, 2015

Starting June 1, residents in the Vicksburg Housing Authority’s Waltersville Estates property will have a new neighbor — a Vicksburg police officer.

The new resident is part of a program called “Officer Next Door,” which was originated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to encourage police officers to move in to low- and moderate-income neighborhoods to help improve the quality of life. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved an agreement with VHA to begin the program.

Police Chief Walter Armstrong said he asked housing authority officials if they were interested in participating in the program.

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“I feel we have a real good partnership with the housing authority,” he said. “I know just mere fact of having a police officer and a vehicle present, it’s a deterrent to crime. It gives the residents a point of contact with a police officer, and they can talk to directly to him or her.”

Under the agreement, VHA provides a rent-free apartment for the officer in Waltersville. The officer is responsible for paying the utilities. VHA executive director Ben Washington said Waltersville was selected because the property had a vacant apartment that had recently been renovated.

“There will be a marked police car; there will be a uniform police officer living in that apartment,” Armstrong said.

Although police have not received a high volume of calls from the Waltersville area, he said, having the police presence in the area would help deter crime.

“Many of our officers live in different areas of the city and in the county, and the citizens feel very comfortable and safer by having a police officer there in the neighborhood,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong has already begun looking for an officer who would be interested in living at the multi-unit complex off North Washington Street.

“What I hope to have is maybe two officers staying there,” he said. “We would have two officers working opposite shifts, and have an officer staying there all the time. Ideally, I would like to have a family — a husband, wife and kids.”

Although the housing authority will lose rental income on the apartment, Washington said, “In return, we get the service from the police department, the presence of the police car, and an officer that’s dedicated to us when we have association meetings and updating the board on what’s going on at our properties.

“It will deter crime, and of course, (have) a quicker response, because the officer happens to be on duty. We actually get the name of the police department in the neighborhood.”

He added VHA would examine the program over the next year to see how it works.

“If it works out, we’ll look at going into another one,” he said, “Looking at selected properties. The ones where there’s the most problems will be considered first.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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