DECISION 2023: Warren County Sheriff candidates weigh in on pressing issues

Published 4:00 am Friday, November 3, 2023

Election Day is Nov. 7, when incumbent Sheriff Martin Pace will face off against opponent Jeff Riggs.

Pace and Riggs spoke with The Vicksburg Post this week to share their thoughts on the office and current community issues. Their videos are below:

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How have you gotten to this point, and how will you build on prior experience to improve Warren County?

PACE: I have had the opportunity to work in every division, every working, moving part of the sheriff’s office, and I have been serving as your sheriff since 1996. I have experience in every portion of the operational management of the sheriff’s office, the leadership of the sheriff’s office, and building on that experience gives me the opportunity to identify areas where we need to improve, areas where we’re doing well and we need to keep doing the same thing and areas where we need to make some changes and move forward. I’m very much a leader that believes in community policing, in placing officers in the community. We should be part of the community and they should be part of us, and part of that is listening to the community. Building on the experience I’ve had over the last 30 years, I can utilize that to listen to the public and say, “How can we do everything better tomorrow than we did yesterday?”

RIGGS: I spent 37 years in public service: seven years under (Sheriff) Paul Barrett as road officers, nine years elected as a justice court judge for the Southern District and then 21 years until my retirement in 2018 as the undersheriff for the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, so I ran the day-to-day operations on that. I’ve got an MBA, two degrees in criminal justice and 40 years in the military.

What areas for change have you identified at the Warren County Sheriff’s Office?

PACE: That’s a long list, but briefly, when I took office in 1996 one of the first things I did was an internal audit. What are we doing good, what are we doing bad and how can we do everything better? Very soon after taking office, we uniformed all of the equipment. We built the training up to meet or exceed state standards. We reconfigured duty shifts to, for the very first time, offer full 24/7 coverage of Warren County. We worked with the Warren County Board of Supervisors to create a Court Services Division that allowed full-time deputies in the courthouse without having to pull patrol officers out of the field. This increases the number of officers in the field. We implemented a rank structure, which allows for more efficient supervision. We successfully implemented community policing and established partnerships with state and federal partners. That allows me and the leadership of the department to identify areas where we do need to improve.

RIGGS: One thing is, being with the sheriff’s office, I understand budget and the need for recruiting and retention. When I left the sheriff’s office in 2018, we had 24 slots dedicated to patrol. That’s outside of investigations, court services, transport or process server. I have a recruiting and retention plan, if elected, to get the number of officers up. What does that entail to the public? The one thing it really impacts is community policing, because you have to have the officers to get out there and make decisions on their own. It boils down to three things: development, engagement and implementation.

Community policing: What are your thoughts on visibility across different demographics? 

PACE: I am the sheriff for every single person in this county. Part of community policing is to know the citizens you serve. I’ve said this many times: as I look through the windshield of my car, everybody I see is my employer. You will see me, you will see other officers at every football game, all the sports events, your church events and other things in the community. And that’s not just six months before an election; it’s what we do around the clock. Community policing is based on the concept that the community is part of the law enforcement agency that serves that community and that the law enforcement agency is part of that community. I encourage all my officers to be part of the PTA, be involved in different activities in schools. If call volume allows, I allow my officers to take time to go to church with their families, with that marked patrol car out front. This is the entire community. The sheriff’s office today is the best-trained, best-educated and most diverse group of men and women that have ever served Warren County.

RIGGS: Neighborhood watch covers that, TRIAD covers senior citizens, youth basketball and youth camps cross all levels of demographics. We’d like to have a citizen police program or a police explorers program, which covers (the community). A big thing is to use the Warren County-Vicksburg Youth Development Center, where all these resources are coming together. You’ve got to implement with other agencies. Let’s share resources. Let’s work with neighborhood watches. I want a firearm safety program. Let’s partner with Fish and Wildlife on that. It’s just all about the imagination.

What are your thoughts on deputy pay and how it plays a role in employee retention? 

PACE: It plays a big role. I appreciate the Board of Supervisors working with me — and this is board after board over many years. The current board has just increased deputy pay; an uncertified deputy starts out at $40,680 a year, plus overtime and benefits. Once they attend the state academy, their pay goes up to $43,680 a year plus overtime. We offer education incentives up to a Ph.D. We also have a physical fitness incentive. There is a test that’s given that allows the officers to get a bonus if they meet or exceed the PT standard. This is so important in attracting and retaining the officers you want to answer a call at your home. This is a partnership where the sheriff and Board of Supervisors have to work closely together. As most people know, I don’t set the budget. I request it and this board has really stepped up to the plate, as did the last board. We are competitive with other agencies our size.

RIGGS: It does play a part. Officers, statistically, it depends on the variance in pay around (the area) what plays even bigger, though, is the morale at the office and on the road. People will stay for a little less money if their work environment is good, they’re well trained and kept up-to-date with work policies and procedures. Something that was talked about years ago is, I would love to hire everyone at deputy pay, and have that professionalism and have sworn officers being dual-certified in both disciplines. It’s a force multiplier, so if you run short and have people off, you can fill (deficits).


What are your thoughts on public access to police scanner traffic?

PACE: Any information can be abused, but as far as the primary dispatch channel, I think it’s perfectly OK. It allows some transparency. It allows the public to hear what we’re doing. It allows some accountability. Certainly, there are times where we need to have a tactical channel. If officers are about to serve a high-risk search warrant, we certainly don’t want to alert the people that we’re on our way. We don’t want to put your personal information out there where someone could take that information and abuse it. But as far as the primary dispatch channels, I don’t have any problem at all with the public listening to that.

RIGGS: Anything can be abused, and I know the situation you’re talking about. I’m not going to meddle in the city’s politics. If, for some reason, the city and (Vicksburg Police Chief) Penny Jones thinks it’s important to encrypt their channels, all of them, on an officer safety program, I think there has to be some information out there and at least, the sheriff’s department should be able to listen to their encrypted channels. That’s a big logistical task. I believe in transparency and I believe in a stronger social media platform, and that’s what I want to bring. One of the ideas I’ve had is to use Code Red if there’s a manhunt or an issue in your neighborhood.

Why are you running for sheriff, or how much longer do you plan to serve, if re-elected?

PACE: I’ve never addressed that head-on. I still thoroughly enjoy what I do. I get up every day looking forward to work. If you say you’re listening to the scanner, you’ll know I don’t sleep a lot. If there’s a major event going on in the community, I want to be there. I still thoroughly enjoy it. As long as God will give me the health and the public will give me the support, I thoroughly enjoy what I do and I’m not looking at the end of that just yet.

RIGGS: I feel that the sheriff’s office, especially when I started seeing they were losing personnel, has not been as progressive as they need to be, especially in technology, maintaining, recruiting and retention. We need to enhance these programs like neighborhood watch and TRIAD and incorporate business watch. My children still live in this community and so do my grandchildren. I want to make it a safer county for them. It’s easy for a lot of people to pick up their reins and move to a safer community, and that’s not the way to do it. I’ve been engrained in the community, but what I want to do is bring all of my experiences to make Warren County a better and safer place.