Officers flee MPD for greener pastures
EMPTY SEATS Asst. Meridian Police Chief Keith McCary jokes with a group of Meridian police officers on the "B" shift, who patrol the streets from 3 p.m.-11 p.m., before they are briefed by their shift commander. Cpl. Johnny Ford, left, Daniel Boyd, Mark Chandler and Howard Miller prepare for their daily briefing. The briefings have become less crowded in the past two weeks, leaving more vacant seats, after three officers from the shift left the department for other local law enforcement agencies. PHOTO BY PAULA MERRITT / THE MERIDIAN STAR
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
May 18, 2003
Ruston Russell started a new job in his same career field last week.
About a year after joining the Meridian Police Department as one of its top rookies, Russell opted to leave the MPD for a similar but better-paying job down the road. He joined the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department as a deputy.
Russell now makes $1.05 more per hour, gets to drive his patrol car home, works 12-hour shifts and gets every other weekend off.
Russell is one of a growing number of officers who have left the MPD recently for jobs with other agencies. He left about six months after graduating from the state law enforcement academy, his training completed at the city of Meridian's expense.
MPD numbers down
Since December, the MPD has lost 10 officers, four of which left to go to other nearby departments, including the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department. Four others retired, one left to go work for a family business and one resigned after deciding that law enforcement wasn't for him.
With four more officers on active military duty overseas, MPD is now down to 79 officers 30 less than full staff and about 72 percent of its authorized strength.
Meridian Police Chief Benny DuBose recognizes the problem and said he is working on a plan that he hopes will keep officers from leaving.
Although he wouldn't discuss his plan in detail, DuBose did say that it could include a possible 12-hour shift, where officers would be off every other weekend, and a possible pay increase.
A new policy now in place will also allow MPD to return the favor and possibly hire officers away from other departments.
Asst. Chief Keith McCary said MPD will soon begin a search for a new position, police officer first class, which will allow state certified officers to bypass the three days of Meridian Civil Service Commission tests.
While MPD continues to search for ways to attract new officers, its is still forced to deal with the absence of those who have left.
DuBose also denied any bad blood between himself and Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie over what he considers the "targeted" recruitment of his officers.
Sollie said he has 49 deputies who work a territory that is much larger in geographic terms than the city of Meridian.
But the extra work demanded of city police officers has continued to mount as MPD stretches to fill the gaps.
Capt. Jeff Lewis, who oversees the "B" shift from 3 p.m.-11 p.m., said three officers from his shift have quit in the past two weeks.
He now has about 14 patrol officers on his shift 11 fewer than full staff.
The additional workload often forces Lewis to abandon his post as supervisor and answer routine calls.
But Lewis insists that his men continue to do a good job.
Number could rise
DuBose doesn't expect the numbers in his department to be down for long.
He points to 19 new officers who last month passed the Civil Service Commission's round of tests, including physical and written tests and an interview.
While the department continues to fill in for those who have left, Russell said he wanted to help them out be working their part-time, but was denied.
DuBose, though, said the reason Russell was denied working part-time for the city was because he quit before finishing his first 12 months of probation with the department, and not because he left to go to the county.
DuBose did say, however, that he has the right to be "selective" about who he hires for part-time work.