JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Brandon patrolman Brad Martin has been a certified officer for about two months. Even with the criticism and scrutiny police deal with every day, there was never a question in his mind about what he was going to do with his life.
“I never wanted to be anything else. Honestly. My mom, she sent me a picture one time of me as a baby holding handcuffs,” he said. “I grew up around law enforcement and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. So far it’s been everything I ever wanted.”
The money didn’t phase him either.
“If you really love something, it’s not about the money,” he said.
Martin’s supervisor, Sgt. Drew Decker, was the youngest patrolman ever hired by Brandon Police Department. Decker became emancipated at age 18 so that he could go on with his chosen career as a police officer. Chief William Thompson decided to give him a chance.
“I didn’t want to wait to go to the police academy,” he said. “As I got older, I just grew more in touch with what this job is all about which made me more passionate about wanting to do it.”
Decker said he sees it as an honor to serve the community he grew up in.
“It’s really a good thing to be out here and give back to where I’ve known my whole life,” he said. “It’s not really a job, it’s really more of a heart thing to be back here and working in this city.”
But not everyone is built like Patrolman Martin and Sgt. Decker. It’s more dangerous for police now, besides the fact that they are always under the microscope. It’s become hard to recruit, and that’s not just here, it’s nationwide.
In Jackson, it’s well documented that crime is going up and police numbers are going down – but other chiefs also say the applications just aren’t there.
“I recall working at another agency where I was tasked with going through different applications and going through 2, 3, 4, 500 applications. Now if one shows up here a week I’m like, ‘Oh we got an application today?’” Thompson said.
The other problem in finding new officers is that the applicants have to pass a background check. That can narrow the field considerably. Getting officers that are already certified? Not always, but sometimes still a tricky situation.
“Lateral transfers, everyone’s looking for good laterals too, making sure that they’re not leaving another jurisdiction because they’ve gotten in trouble there,” Thompson said.
Reservoir Police Chief Trevell Dixon says he’s been trying new recruiting techniques in dealing with the younger generation.
“We just hired our last officer, so we’re actually back up to full strength. But it took us months to get back to that point,” Dixon said.
Dixon tried some new recruiting methods to reach the younger generations. He said aside from using social media, he changed up the interview strategies but also searched for compatible people with different interests.
“A lot of our guys were fresh officers with less than a year in, and we went to people who were interested in different things,” he said.
Thompson said he’s been told by prospective applicants that they changed their mind about going into law enforcement because they risked losing friends.
“Yes, it’s a job, you make money and you pay bills with that. But it’s also a calling. If you want to be a cop just because you want a paycheck, you really might want to look somewhere else,” he said. “But being a professional police officer, that’s something I’m really proud of and a lot of the folks around here are really proud of.”
Ridgeland Police Chief John Neal, who is also the president of the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police, issued a challenge to those who take fault with police.
“If you think our system’s broken, we’re taking applications. I would love to put you in working with us so you would understand better what law enforcement does,” Neal said.
With rising crime even in the state’s second most safe city, Sgt. Decker has seen more in his short career than a lot of veteran officers.
“And I haven’t regretted it a day yet. I enjoy every single day I come to work,” he said.
Brandon and Ridgeland police departments both currently have job openings.