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Dept. of Public Safety Presents Budget Request to Legislature, Shares Enforcement Statistics

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

  • Pay increases, additional facilities and improvements to existing structures included in total budget request from DPS.

The total funding request from Mississippi’s Department of Public Safety to the state Legislature earlier this month was $366 million, which would cover every agency under the department’s umbrella.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell’s purview includes about 1,400 employees who staff the Highway Safety Patrol, Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Narcotics, the Law Enforcement Officer’s Training Academy, Capitol Police, Driver Service Bureau, Office of Homeland Security, Forensics Laboratory, State Medical Examiner’s Office, Commercial Trucking Enforcement, Crime Stoppers and Public Safety Planning.

The request made to the Legislature this month includes additional funding to help the Department of Public Safety get back to level funding from the year before, which would be about $1.8 million.

In addition, the Capitol Police force is operating at a deficit of $2.4 million due to the increased personnel as part of the expansion of the Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID). A budget request has been made to fill that gap, Tindell said.

When the decision was made to increase the jurisdiction of the Capitol Police and treat the department more like a true police force which then expanded within the CCID there was a move to get the department up to 150 officers. Increasing the jurisdictional lines of the Capitol Police, and subsequently the CCID, last year as part of SB 2343 meant Tindell needed to build the force up before the new law went into effect.

“We needed to have those officers available on July 1,” Tindell said. 

Currently, the Capitol Police force has 153 certified officers, with a request to reach 200. Commissioner Tindell would rather have 225 certified officers to cover the expanded CCID area. To get to 200 officers, he would need an additional $3.1 million. To reach his recommended extra 25 to bring the number to 225 would be an additional $1.67 million above that.

The $366 million budget request also includes pay raises for troopers with the Mississippi Highway Patrol. Of that total funding, $4.1 million would provide MHP with pay raises and cover the new troopers anticipated to join the ranks this year. Tindell said a class training new troopers is about halfway through the process, so he hopes to see 40 new graduates on the road by the end of the fiscal year. He’s requesting the pay raises to make the department more competitive. 

“One of the challenges that we’re finding is some of the jurisdictions, particularly like Desoto County and Oxford, are starting off at $55,000 to $60,000 for entry level law enforcement. I believe the city of Madison has recently gone to $55,000 for starting law enforcement,” Tindell described. “So, it’s getting more and more competitive to get individuals to go to patrol school when our local departments are actually paying more.”

The surrounding states of Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana all offer higher trooper pay scales than Mississippi. For instance, Tindell said agencies in Texas are paying $100,000 or more for troopers.

There is also $800,000 requested to conduct maintenance work on the MHP stations in the state.

Commissioner Tindell also wants additional funding to consolidate law enforcement training through renovations at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy in Pearl. He requested $50 million for modernization of training facilities, a gym, classrooms and dormitories at that site. The goal is to build a facility that resembles a community college campus, with existing facilities still serving a purpose. 

“We would not eliminate the current facilities that are there, we would just repurpose them as we continue to do for other functions,” Tindell added.

Due to the age of existing facilities, the need for HVAC equipment and the fact it is not ADA compliant, new training facilities and dorms that meet those requirements are necessary. The proposed improvements would create a campus setting where all state agencies, including MHP, MBI, MBN, and even the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, could train together. 

(Photo from Sean Tindell Facebook)

Enforcement Statistics

During his presentation, Commissioner Tindell provided lawmakers with statewide law enforcement statistics.

The increase in Capitol Police presence and their new duties led to more arrests by that agency. From July 1, 2022, to December 31 of that same year, Capitol Police conducted 704 felony arrests, a sharp increase from the seven total felony arrests made by that agency the year and a half prior.  

“Obviously, that’s a huge increase going from seven felony arrests to 704 in a year and a half,” Tindell stated.

MBN continues to work narcotics cases across the state as the public’s use of those substances led to overdose deaths totaling 334 statewide last year. However, that number is on the decline, in part due to outreach programs that bring agents into schools to tell children about the dangers of fentanyl and other drugs. 

“But I would like to highlight this, I think this was a great success, the outreach programs that MBN has been doing. In 2020, we had 529 overdose deaths, in 2021 we had 497, and in 2022 we had 479. So, for 2023 we saw a drastic reduction in that number,” Tindell elaborated.

Work within the medical examiner’s office is cutting down on the backlog of autopsy reports. When Commissioner Tindell took over in 2020 as part of his appointment by Governor Tate Reeves, there was a backlog of about 2,000 autopsy reports dating back to 2010. 

“As of the end of last month all but only two of those reports had been done,” Tindell added.

With only three medical examiners currently on staff, he requested the establishment of an additional medical examiner’s office in Oxford. He also wants to staff that office with an extra pathologist. Tindell chose Oxford as the location for the new office due to the large number of amenities the city offers, making it easier to recruit someone to that position. 

Homicides statewide have been fluctuating the past several years but appear to be on the decline. Statistics presented by the Commissioner show that in 2023 there were 496 homicides statewide. For comparison, that number was 370 in 2017, 412 in 2018, 438 in 2019, 566 in 2020, 604 in 2021, and 525 in 2022.

“Hopefully we’re seeing a decrease in homicides across the state,” Tindell said.

Lawmakers will now consider the requests as part of their annual negotiations leading up to the adoption of the Fiscal Year 2025 Mississippi budget.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

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