MEET THE CANDIDATES: Warren County Sheriff
Published 4:00 am Monday, June 5, 2023
Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series of stories in which candidates for local offices will answer questions about a variety of issues. The Vicksburg Post sent each candidate a questionnaire with 10 topics, and they were asked to provide their responses. Today, the candidates for Warren County Sheriff — Martin Pace and Jeff Riggs — give their answers to the following questions.
Name: Martin Pace
Occupation: Sheriff of Warren County
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Name: Jeff Riggs
Occupation: Retired Law Enforcement, Vicksburg Fire Department Part-time EMT
How would you grade your success to this point and do you plan to keep things going in the same direction? -OR- What is your assessment of the previous or current occupant of this office, and, if elected, would you keep it in the same direction or change course?
PACE: When first elected in 1996, I received a clear mandate from the citizens of Warren County to transform the Sheriff’s Office into a modern public safety and law enforcement organization. I began with a full audit of the Sheriff’s Office and County Jail operations to give me a clear understanding of weak points, strong points and how we could do everything better. With the help of a team of dedicated professionals who understood my vision of a modern agency, we went to work. The shift schedules were changed to provide 24-hour patrol coverage of the county. I increased training requirements and standardized equipment issued to deputies. A Court Services unit was created to provide full-time deputies in the courthouse and all of the county’s courtrooms without having to take deputies off the county roads to secure the courthouse. I met with state officials and national congressional leaders to help secure grant funding for the Sheriff’s Office to pay for staffing and equipment. I met the leadership of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and created partnerships that are in place today. The most important partnership to me, however, is the partnership with this community. I have listened to the citizens of Warren County for my entire tenure in office. I am proud to see and meet with citizens from every corner of this beautiful county and from every walk of life. If re-elected, I plan to continue to embrace a philosophy of community policing and be a visible, accessible public servant to the entire county.
RIGGS: The Office of the Sheriff is mandated in the Mississippi Constitution. It is an institution whose mission and direction are law enforcement oriented. The direction of the office will be managed by qualified subordinate leaders at my direction. I will provide subordinate leaders opportunities to make decisions for their team in the best interest of the public and the department. I will ensure that the Sheriff’s Office is fair and balanced in public safety and other services provided For a Safer Warren County.
How would you address transparency and accountability in this office?
PACE: Transparency and accountability are essential elements of trust for any public official or government office. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has an open-door policy to the public and our operation is audited annually by the State Auditor’s Office. The records, including arrest records, are open to the public unless information must be kept confidential during the course of an investigation or for other legal requirements.
RIGGS: As Sheriff, I will address transparency and accountability in layers. I will assure the public that all issues concerning employee conduct, victim rights and awareness, jail issues and financial accountability are open for public review. I will share with the public all issues good and bad and when necessary, make corrections or adjustments in a timely manner.
What are the most pressing issues in this office and how would you address them?
PACE: One of the most pressing issues law enforcement across the nation is facing is the recruitment and retention of officers. Warren County is not immune from this but soon after taking office, I established internship programs with the criminal justice programs at major universities throughout the state. We have been successful in recruiting bright, well-educated officers from these internships and I plan to continue these efforts. We also recruit locally and during public relations events throughout the year. In the upcoming year, we have plans for creating an online recruiting and application process. The other pressing issue we are facing is the replacement of our aging jail. The original structure is 117 years old with a 46-year-old addition. The Board of Supervisors has already acquired the land and is in the planning process to construct a new facility. I and every Grand Jury for 20 years have recommended the replacement of the jail, and I am pleased the Board of Supervisors is moving forward with this much-needed project. A jail that is a safe, secure facility is an essential component of the criminal justice system and will enhance the safety for the public, the inmates and the officers who serve in the facility.
RIGGS: As a Sheriff, you have many priorities at one time, these include the ability to recruit and retain deputies and the planning for implementation of the new jail. Other issues that I will address are modern contemporary training in all areas with emphasis on mental health and de-escalation response, youth violence, drug intervention, human trafficking both youth and adult, and any other issues that I may identify upon taking office.
How would your role in this office improve Vicksburg and Warren County?
PACE: If I am honored to be re-elected as your sheriff, I can offer the citizens of Warren County over 30 years of law enforcement experience, established partnerships with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, proven leadership as your sheriff and consistency of service. For my entire adult life, I have strived to provide every citizen of our community with honest, professional law enforcement and public service.
RIGGS: Do you feel safe? As your Sheriff, I will ensure that the citizens of Vicksburg and Warren County will be safe individually as well as their property. Those resources provided by the taxpayer will be fully utilized and managed with cooperation and integration between local, state, and federal agencies for a safer Warren County.
What are your reasons for seeking this office and why should voters elect you?
PACE: I am a third-generation law enforcement officer from right here in Warren County and I have never wanted to do anything but serve the people of this community. It is my greatest honor to serve as your sheriff, and if re-elected I will continue to lead from the front and always strive to do a better job tomorrow than I have today. I will always look to new innovative methods of public safety but never lose sight of the proven tactics of solid community policing.
RIGGS: As Sheriff, I will make a difference through commitment and trust. For 21 years I ran the day-to-day operations to include budget, planning for current and future operations, both for the Jail and Sheriff’s Office. I was elected for nine years, and it was an honor to serve as the Justice Court Judge for the Southern District. I have had the unique experience of having overseen 42,000 combat soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan as a Command Sergeant Major. The Command Sergeant Major is the highest enlisted rank a person can obtain in the Army. I am immensely proud to serve my Country and will bring that experience to lead Warren County to become a safer community. I have the training, skills, and leadership to take the Sheriff’s Office into the future.
Please share any family/personal information you’d like to include.
PACE: I am a lifelong resident of Warren County and a third-generation member of the First Presbyterian Church, where I have served as a Deacon and Elder. I have been married to my wife, Kim, for 23 years and we live in Vicksburg. I attended Hinds Community College and graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in Criminal Justice. I have completed graduate courses from USM and the University of Virginia. I am a graduate of the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy, the Arson Investigator Program at the Mississippi Fire Academy, the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Leadership Program and the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, as well as hundreds of hours of training at the local, state and federal level. I was an adjunct instructor of Criminal Justice at Hinds Community College for 15 years and have been a guest instructor at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy, New Sheriffs’ Course. I currently serve on the board of directors for several local organizations, including the Haven House Family Shelter and the Warren County Children’s Shelter. Although most of my time is spent working or at community events, when time permits, I enjoy my motorcycle and sponsoring youth softball.
RIGGS: I am married to Sherry Jones Riggs of Vicksburg. We have four children: Stephanie Frost, Jeremiah Riggs, Ashlie Kilpatrick, and Kayla Riggs, and eight grandchildren. I am a member of Immanuel Baptist Church.