Pace, hands-on sheriff, says service is an honor

Published 7:02 pm Saturday, November 19, 2016

For Martin Pace, serving as Warren County’s sheriff is an honor.

“It’s a great honor every day to serve this community. I’m proud of Vicksburg and Warren County. Being a county sheriff has a wide range of responsibilities; it can be very rewarding, it can be heartbreaking at times, and the job doesn’t come with a lot of sleep.”

Pace observes the 20th anniversary of his election as sheriff this month, marking the special election he won to become the county’s top law enforcement officer.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“Otha Jones was appointed to fill the remainder of Sheriff (Paul) Barrett’s term when he retired,” he said. “I was appointed (by the Warren County Board of Supervisors) in January 1996 to fill the beginning of the next term until the special election could be held.”

He oversees a department of 66 employees, including uniform officers and investigators, traffic and court deputies.

Since taking office, Pace has developed a reputation as a hands-on sheriff who is fully involved with what goes on in Warren County. Although he has an office at the sheriff’s office, he’s rarely there. People are more likely to find him in his car patrolling county roads and streets with his deputies.

Sitting behind a desk, he said, “Is not me.”

“I guess my heart will always be in the streets and on the roads, and that’s where I cut my teeth in law enforcement as a deputy sheriff,” he said. “I’m out and involved in a lot of the department’s activities by choice; I certainly have faith and confidence in my staff to do the job, but I enjoy being out in the middle of whatever is going on.

“I think the public deserves to have that contact. I’m hopefully easy to get in contact, and I want the public to understand that I am interested in what’s going on.”

Pace joined the sheriff’s department as a deputy in 1981 after serving two years as a state park ranger, “which was more about the environment than law enforcement.”

“When I first came into law enforcement, I had a .38-caliber revolver and a two-channel radio,” he said. “The only training that anybody had was eight weeks of basic training at the state academy.”

He also had a degree in criminal justice from the University of Southern Mississippi.

He rose through the ranks to become an investigator — the post he held when he was appointed sheriff by the board.

He said the increased use of computers by law enforcement, is one of the biggest changes he has seen in law enforcement.

When he took office in 1996, Pace said, the only computer in the building was the National Crime Information Center computer, which is provided by the state and used to check outstanding warrants, get information on stolen items and vehicle registrations.

“I was in office when a lot of the computer-based records came about. We were on front end,” he said.

Other changes have been in equipment and training.

“When I took office in 1996 — and this is not a poor reflection on my predecessor at all, it’s just the way things had been done for many years — a lot of the equipment the deputies used were provided by the deputy.

“There was no uniform issuance of equipment. We have since developed a very proactive approach to maintaining equipment necessary for deputies to do their job. All of our records are computerized; we have computers in most of our cars that allow a deputy in the field to do more than a dispatcher was able to do over a period of hours.”

The requirements for deputy sheriffs, Pace said, now exceed the minimum state requirements.

“We look for college education or prior military service or both. We have a diverse work force, which has not been by accident, that’s been intentional. We have sought people.

“We have much better coverage of the county. Warren County is over 600 square miles. Vicksburg, by contrast, is approximately 33 square miles.”

After taking office, he said, he conducted an internal audit and surveyed how deputies were used in the field, including the times for peak calls.

“We were able to utilize a completely different shift schedule that gives much better coverage of the county, and actually, we function the same, day or night.

“The coverage of the county is 24 hours, 365 days a year. There are no down days, no off days and we’ve been able to do that by reconfiguring shift schedules.”

He also implemented a rank structure, with a clear chain of command, an evidence division and evidence unit, traffic division and a court services unit responsible for court security, serving process and transporting prisoners.

“We have officers involved in task forces that give us better relationships with our state and federal partners. We have a heavy emphasis on training. We’ve documented in-service training that goes over and beyond what the state requires.”

When deputies complete their 12-week basic training course at the state law enforcement academy, Pace said, they immediately go into a 12-week field training program with a certified field training officer.

Trained officers, he said, are something the public deserves, “And should expect to have the best trained, best educated officers possible.”

“We provide the public with the best possible service that we can. We understand that there’s certain times we wish we had more officers on the street per shift. We will continue to provide public with courteous professional service.

“I’m still very much a proponent of community-based policing for the officers to be involved in the community, and I emphasize the fact we are peace officers. Law enforcement is one component of our job, but it is certainly not the whole thing.”

Pace said he chose law enforcement as a career because “I was always around it.”

When he was a child, his father was a member of the Vicksburg police auxiliary.

“My dad came up through the ranks of that and he ended up as chief for the auxiliary unit of the Vicksburg police department.

“In his full time job with the Corps of Engineers, he was involved the security aspect at what was then the Waterways experiment station. On the other side, my grandfather, my mother’s father, was a career game warden.”

Pace said the worst part of his job is “delivering death messages.”

“You walk up to the door and everything is normal, and so many times it’s at night. It’s quiet and peaceful, and everybody’s asleep, you knock on the door and some mom or some dad comes with sleepy eyes to the door and you know the next few words you say will haunt them for rest of their lives. Specifically when you have to tell a parent their teenage son or daughter wont be coming home.

“I always pray, ‘Please let me say the right thing.’”

The best part, he said, is being able to help people.

“Sometimes it’s arresting a criminal that has victimized them, or sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with arresting somebody; you feel like you’ve made somebody’s day better.

“I guess I’m most proud of the deputies — to sit back and watch them grow and become good officers and to watch their careers grow, that’s a good thing.”

And what’s in Pace’s future? He said he plans to continue in office “as long as God and the public are willing, I feel like I’m making a contribution to the community and I enjoy what I do, serving as sheriff in the best community in the state.”

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.

email author More by John