Allison has big plans

Published 11:24 pm Saturday, January 12, 2008

New Pearl River County Sheriff David Allison has been working with the Sheriff’s Department since mid-November preparing to take over and now that he has, he says he has big plans for the next four years.

Allison, along with his Chief Deputy Frank Vaccarella and his Chief Investigator Steve Tucker, have been working since the elections to evaluate current staff and formulate a new chain of command within the department.

“We need people to know where they rank within the department, so they can follow that chain of command and are aware of policy changes or updates as well,” Vaccarella said.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Allison said with those who have resigned as well as the ones who have been let go, approximately ten positions were open after the first of the year, but that five or six of those posts have already been filled.

Vaccarella and Tucker both said they think their departments would benefit with more officers, but that now, as in the past, funding will be an issue.

“It’s not that we can’t police the county. We will make do with what we have. But (funding) is a big issue. We do need more officers and more investigators,” Tucker said.

One goal is for more education and training for officers within the department, which is difficult at the current staffing level, Vaccarella said. Another goal is to have enough personnel so that some can be temporarily reassigned to task forces if a situation arises where one is needed.

Vaccarella said he would also like to be able to increase the staffing eventually to include a SWAT team, a unit to respond to threats at schools and a self-sufficient crime lab, although he acknowledged time and funding would again be issues in all those areas.

Allison said he also has plans in place to improve the conditions at the jail, and to provide further education to the jail staff.

Vaccarella said classes are currently being held at the jail that are exclusive to the correctional officers and will help them make the jail a more secure environment. There are also plans at revising the chain of command for the correctional officers as well.

Allison said the reserve staff is well staffed at the time, but he intends to implement a system to make certain the reserve workers work a minimum of 24 hours per month, and also provide additional training for the reservists as well.

Another goal for the department is to move cases more quickly through the justice system, Tucker said, adding that they have talked with District Attorney Hal Kittrell’s office about the problem.

“The D.A. is willing to work with us. We think the public will see the benefits down the road,” Tucker said.

Allison said he would also like to see the Search and Rescue team cooperating more with the volunteer fire departments, as well as a more active neighborhood watch.

“We’ve been working with the Pearl River County Neighborhood Watch in Nicholson and they’re willing to help us expand it throughout the county. The eyes and the ears of the public are the best tool we have. We’re going to work hard, but it has to be a community effort,” Allison said.

Allison, Vaccarella and Tucker all agree that the number one priority of the department is the drug problem in the county, and Allison said he is bringing in a seasoned drug agent to spearhead the drug task force.

“Eighty-five percent of all crime is drug-related… By reducing drugs, we will be reducing crime,” Allison said.

Tucker said the department will be using all available resources to fight the drug problem, including working with state and federal departments such as the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Allison also wants to work to improve the working relationships between the Poplarville and Picayune City Police Departments, and said he intends to meet with both city police departments.

“We’re going to network with the state and federal agencies as well as the city departments. We want to have a good working relationship with all of them,” Tucker said.

Allison said the changes will not be seen immediately, but that they will be coming.

“What we want to do will probably take three to four years. It’s going to take some time, but we hope people will be able to see the improvements we’re making in the departments,” Allison said.

Ultimately, Allison said he would like to provide a more visible presence around the county with the department.

“I want to get the officers more training and then break the county into beats and assign officers their beats so they can be more visible. I want to be proactive rather than reactive… We’re going to need more funding. Funding has been the biggest issue for the department in the past, and we will have that same problem. We need to see what we have and what we need, and then I’ll go to the board of supervisors and ask for an increase in the budget,” Allison said.

Allison said he probably would not have made the progress he has already made if it had not been for the help of former Sheriff Joe Stuart, who allowed Allison to come in after the election and start getting ready to take over.

“I was one of only two newly elected sheriffs who were allowed to come in prior to the first of the year… Joe Stuart has been such a gentleman in allowing me to come in and learn and train for this position. I think that says a lot about his character, and I appreciate the help he has given me,” Allison said.

Allison said he wants to be available to the public and that he plans to be working from the courthouse in Poplarville in the mornings and then from the jail in Millard in the afternoons. He said anyone wanting to see him can call the courthouse at (601) 403-2340 or the jail at (601) 403-2500 and make an appointment.