‘Culture of accountability’: VPD chief says children are key to brighter future

Published 10:33 pm Friday, February 23, 2024

Vicksburg Chief of Police Penny Jones may have carried her sidearm on her hip during Wednesday night’s officer of the year banquet, but she wore her heart on her sleeve while delivering the evening’s keynote speech.

Jones spent most of the annual event helping celebrate the nominees and winners of this year’s awards ceremony for Vicksburg police officers and firefighters, as well as for Warren County sheriff’s deputies and Mississippi Highway Patrol officers, but she also took the time to address the crowd, delivering her thoughts and feelings on how to move the River City toward a brighter future. And her ideas begin with the community’s children.

“I remember being a young kid and wanting to go to the skating rink,” she recalled. “(My mom) told me that I could not go and when she told me, she meant it. No matter how I cried, she still didn’t let me go. But, now we’re at a point to where you’ve got officers responding to calls for service for kids that don’t want to go to school. They’re telling their moms, ‘I don’t want to go to school today.’”

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Jones said her officers see every day that without a strong home life, many area children grow up with increased chances of getting into trouble with law enforcement.

“I want to draw your attention today to a matter of the utmost importance,” Jones told the audience Wednesday. “The role of parental accountability in shaping our children’s future. In a world where blame is shifted onto external factors, such as law enforcement officers and teachers, we’re at a point now where the blame is being put on us. Like we are the ones that are supposed to be raising the children, when it actually starts in the home.”

Jones said it is imperative that Vicksburg and Warren County leaders help pave the way for a return to accountability in the home.

“Many of us may recall a time when parental guidance was the cornerstone of our moral compass,” she said. “Our parents instilled in us values of respect, responsibility, and resilience. Fast forward to the present day and we’re witnessing a concerning shift, where parents are increasingly stretched thin, leaving children to navigate the complexities of a large world on their own.”

Recalling a story from her past, Jones stressed it is as important for law enforcement officers to approach issues involving children with compassion as it is for them to do so using tougher tactics.

Jones told audience members of a call years ago at a gas station involving a minor caught attempting to shoplift chips and other snacks. After conferring with the shop owner, Jones said she purchased the food for the child and drove him home. It was there, she said, she realized the food had been meant for the child’s two younger siblings, with whom he had been left home alone.

“It was for them,” Jones told the crowd. “He hadn’t tried to take anything for himself. It was for his younger siblings.”

Jones said the story is a stark reminder that not all situations are as clear cut as they seem, but reiterated that without help from the parents, the job of law enforcement becomes exponentially more difficult.

“This trend has dire consequences,” she said. “Children are deprived of parental guidance and are susceptible to negative influences, including drugs. When parents are absent or neglectful, children seek validation someplace else.”

Jones said, while the road to improvement may be long, the goal is simple: “It’s about fostering a culture of accountability,” she said.