A New Sheriff? JFP Interview with Tyrone Lewis | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

A New Sheriff? JFP Interview with Tyrone Lewis

Can you tell me about your family?
I come from a family of six kids—two sisters, three brothers. And my mother and father still live, and still reside in this neighborhood I grew up in. I had a good childhood.

What order in the siblings were you?
I was number two. My oldest brother is in the fire department. My family has a history of public service. I have a brother that is a preacher. I have a sister that runs a daycare. A public servant is just something we were brought up being, and something we enjoy. It's something I look forward to continuing in the sheriff's department.

You went to Lanier H.S. Where did you go to college?
I went to Jackson State University and graduated in 1982 with a B.S. degree in mass communications.

Tell me about your professional history as a police officer.
I've had a great and wonderful career in law enforcement. I started with the Jackson Police Department in 1983, about a year after coming out of college. My desire to be in law enforcement was because of being a public servant. I worked in my career field as a mass communications major for a year, as a radio announcer at Mix 103. I just wasn't satisfied, knowing I wasn't serving the way I was brought up to serve, and wanted to serve. Being a police officer was one of my career choices, coming up as a kid. So I decided to seek a different career, and that was law enforcement. And this is where I've been ever since, for the past 24 years.

So you joined a recruiting class, went to the academy?
I worked the midnight shift at Mix 103—as Travis Knight. Tyrone Lewis wouldn't fit in the country and western atmosphere. So, I had to use a name that was more common to country and western … I had some time in between breaks to read the newspaper, and I was searching for a new career. I saw an ad where the Jackson Police Department was recruiting, so I decided to follow up on it. I thought at some point in time, I would still be able to use my major in that field. It turned out to be that way. I wanted to be more involved with the public, more involved with the people. I decided to seek (the job), and that's what happened. I filled out the application, got the call, and it took off from there.

What happened after you joined the police force? How have the past 24 years of your career been?
It's been a very enjoyable experience for me, unlike some others can say. It's because I'm a native of Jackson: I grew up here, went to school here and was able to serve a community that helped raise me. I've always wanted to be a person to give back to a community that I grew up in. I was blessed to go back, after graduating from the academy, to work the actual neighborhood I grew up in, and to service people who are now elderly, in their 70s, 80s, and 90s.

So you knew them just from running around the neighborhood?
I come from, what we call, "It takes a village to raise a kid." I knew them, not just from running around the neighborhood—they were part of rearing me. I come from the area, when my parents weren't around, and I did something that was not pleasing to the neighborhood, I got a whooping then, from those elders. And they still have my attention today, at 47 years old. That's the kind of environment I came from, and it's a pleasure for me to come back and serve those people—who know feel that they're in bondage, in their late ages, that they can't sit on their porches. They can't go to the grocery store. They just don't feel comfortable anymore, and it gives me a thrill to give them something back that they gave to me—and that's protection. They protected me, while I was coming up—kept me out of trouble, kept me out of jail, nurtured me. I not only owed it to them, but I appreciate them. The Jackson Police Department has been a good career for me—to serve the ones who showed love to me. It's a way for me to show love back to this community. Not just Jackson, but the whole of Hinds County.

Can you tell me about your tenure as commander of the training academy?
When I first joined the police department, I knew I would not be satisfied being a patrolman. When I talk about making a difference in the community, you also have to make a difference with the men and women you work with. I knew the Jackson Police Department was going through some changes, coming out of the 60s into the 70s and 80s, but I've always wanted to be a person to make a change, do something different and make a positive impact. There is a phobia about police officers, that they just want to put people in jail for the big bad guy, or just somebody with a gun and a badge. I wanted to change that image. In order to change that image, you have to put yourself in a position to change that image. When I went to the academy, when I saw the training I was getting then, it was good. But I knew it could be better. I always wanted to be a training instructor, to have an impact on the development of the officers in this city. I got that opportunity under Chief Jimmy Wilson. When he became chief, I made it known to him—I started taking instructional classes to become an instructor at the academy. My history at the police academy didn't just start in 2002. It started in 1994, when I was asked to be a training instructor. I was a training instructor before I was a training director—particularly in the areas of physical fitness and as a classroom instructor. It goes back to 1994, when I was asked to be a classroom instructor. Then, because of promotions, I had to leave the academy. I was promoted to sergeant. When you're promoted like that, you have to go back to the street, where you supervise people. And I liked that too. Going back to my director and commandership, I've always wanted to be where I am, and I laid a roadmap for that. I put myself in a position to take courses, make it known that that's where I wanted to be and why. I got that opportunity. Since I've been given that opportunity, we have made a lot of improvements and a lot of success by me being director of training. When you get to be director or commander of any unit, it comes with a budget and staff. So it gave me the opportunity to take a budget of little or nothing, and make it work as if we had a million dollars. That's something I learned at home—I had to take a penny and stretch it. We were able to make improvements to the academy to attract outside agencies, attract better training and improve the quality of training the officers are not receiving—even though we're not offering classes now.

There's a lot of concern about how the number of JPD officers has gone down recently, and they're not getting recruitment classes through as quickly as they might like. If anyone knows about that, you would. What can you tell me about where we stand with getting more police officers on board?
We just gave an entry test the day before yesterday. The problem has been getting qualified applicants to pass the entry test, number one. And the ones who do pass the test, there is a series of checkpoints they have go through to qualify. If we start out with 100 applicants, we may not end up with more than 20. And budget-wise, that's not enough to be effective with a recruitment class, because of all the budget requirements that come with it. The other thing is the competition that we have with law enforcement from surrounding areas. Locally, like the Ridgeland Police Department and just in different metro areas, as well as outside the state. When you have other agencies that have a better package than the Jackson Police Department, and you have guys who have a choice of where they want to work. We have a lot of guys who want to work with the Jackson Police Department, but the incentive package compared to other agencies is what's hurting us. If I were to start over again, I would look at the packages and determine, 'Do I want to work harder for the same money I can get at Ridgeland and work less for?' Those are the problems we're dealing with. The recruitment and the competition has been a problem for the Jackson Police Department.

I take it you think salaries should go up, and there should be more incentives for officers.
I do.

I see some information about the gun range, and your work with weapons training. Can you tell me a little bit about your qualifications for working with weapons?
Being a Jackson Police Officer, I'm no different than anyone else who's a sworn police officer. I had to go through the same training that all the other officers had to go through. And I think I should be. Being the director, I should take the lead and set the example, and that's what I do.

The firing range comes under the range of direction as well. That staff out there comes under my direction and leadership, and I'm proud to announce that there's been a lot of improvements made out there as well. We're sorry that we lost the National Pistol Championship, because that was something we were proud to host. We got a chance to interact with officers all over the country. It started out as something nationwide, then it went international. Due to the contracts, they've decided to move elsewhere. Qualifying is something I believe in. Training is something I believe in. Continuing education is something I believe in. Because of the technology, and being a police officer, laws change every day, the legislature changes every time they meet, and it's important that our officers are up on the latest developments in the law and in training. Therefore we have continuing ed, not only at the pistol range but in the academy as well.

Why do we need a change in leadership at the sheriff's department?
I'm very concerned about, and I do believe, that after 16 years, the taxpayers of Hinds County are not receiving the services and protections that they're paying for. This is something that I've been planning to do, ever since I got into law enforcement. I've always wanted to go to the top. I had three goals I set when I decided to join the police department. One of them was to always make a positive change, if you can, and to put yourself in the position to make that change. My desires were to be either police chief or sheriff of Hinds County. I reached a pinnacle in the Jackson Police Department. I'm at the age and tenure where I can retire. But I've still got a lot of mileage left in me. I'm not only concerned about Jackson; I'm concerned about Hinds County. We can do better. Something needs to be done different. Crime is not just a Jackson problem, it's not just a Jackson Police Department problem. It's a Hinds County problem.

Do you think the Sheriff's Department needs to focus more on Jackson?
I do. Being that Hinds County, population wise, is the largest county in Mississippi. The capitol city is housed in Hinds County. If the capitol city doesn't survive, then the county of Hinds cannot survive. The only way to make that happen, with economic development and neighborhood revitalization—law enforcement has to play a part in it. Change needs to be made so that you can have unity among law enforcement agencies, not only in Jackson but across Hinds County, not only on the local level but on the state level as well as the federal level.

What are some specific things you think need improvement?
The first thing that needs to be improved is relationships between law enforcement agencies. I think working together, along with local agencies such as the Jackson Police Department, the Clinton Police Department, Utica, Bolton, Edwards, I think you'll see a decrease in crime in all of those areas, especially Jackson. A lot of folks have a misconception of what the sheriff's position is. The sheriff is the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the county. A lot of people think he's just restricted to the rural areas, but his jurisdiction is countywide. He's just as responsible for crime in Jackson as the Jackson Police Department. And it's time that (the sheriff's office) be held accountable, as well as the Jackson Police Department. So, an open relationship between the two agencies, number one, would increase manpower. Number two, it could decrease the overtime budget because pairing up and working together and developing those relationships and those relationships, you'll see more deputies deployed in the City of Jackson, working hand in hand with the Jackson Police Department. Developing those relationships is one aspect.

What's another one?
Another aspect is developing the relationship with the communities. You know, you can't just look at law enforcement as all about incarcerating (people). When you talk about economic development, law enforcement has to play a role in that. It plays a role in the tax base. You have a lot of development going on in the City of Jackson—$1.6 billion worth—and a lot of people aren't aware of that. I think that developers and planners should be sitting at the tables with law enforcement—the sheriff and the police chief—along with the mayors of these cities, to help develop a safety and security plan, in order to keep those businesses in these respective cities, such as Jackson and Clinton, so they won't be saying, 'I'm going to leave because of the crime rate.' I think everybody needs to be sitting at the table when it comes to economic development, including law enforcement. They can't just sit back and wait until a building is erected, and say, 'We need to do this. We need to that.' Law enforcement needs to be at the table before the first slab is made in any development in Hinds County.

You've talked about forging a less acrimonious relationship with the supervisors. The sheriff says the supervisors don't make the sheriff's department a top priority, and that's why he's tangled with them. What would you do to improve the relationship with supervisors?
I think the supervisors want to and need to be more involved in where they're sending money. They're the backbone and the resource of funding for the sheriff's department. You have to get along with the people who feed you. I have a personality and a desire to get along with anybody. I don't see a problem getting along with the Board of Supervisors. I think that when I become Sheriff, and the plans I develop as Sheriff that need funding, they will be provided with a booklet of the needs, how much is needed, and they will be invited to view those needs, and they'll be invited to sit at the table to help make those decisions. Of course, you don't get everything you ask for. But, to have a good relationship with them, at least you get some of the things you need. It's my understanding that they have a $17 million budget. Priorities need to be put in place. Supervisors need to make sure the money is being used wisely, and being prioritized in the right way, such as salaries, equipment and training. They need to be abreast of those things, and I don't think they've been abreast. If they're abreast, I think you'll have a much better working relationship with them—and invite them to the table a little bit more.

Let's talk a little bit about the jail. First of all, what would you do to ease overcrowding? Secondly, they're having lots of problems with locks and other infrastructural problems in the jail—what would you do to improve some of that?
With the jail overcrowding, there's a lot of things we can do with that, and some of that is already in the making. The Board of Supervisors has just approved additional funding for an additional wing about 134-142 beds in the Raymond Facilities. They've just approved to rebuild the penal farm. There's been a verbal agreement between Chris Epps, commissioner of the state jails, and the supervisors to erect a regional facility. They're looking at a 450-bed facility, and they're talking about reducing it to 250. I understand there's some concern with the recreational area. So there's help on the way right now to ease some of that jail overcrowding. But, there needs to be a balance when you're talking about working with the jail. There needs to be some intervention plans in place. I do propose plan for intervention, to reduce recidivism. One of those (plans)—I know this is going to give you a mild version of it—my plans, I don't want to release them until I'm elected. I find now that when I'm out speaking, a lot of the plans that I reveal I want to do are being copycatted by some other candidates. I propose what's called the "Three P's" for the jail incarceration system, that's called pre-incarceration, present-incarceration and post-incarceration. Pre-incarceration's going to be dealing with trying to work with individuals that are at-risk, to keep them from coming into the system. That'll be working with our schools—increasing the school resource officer's program.

Tell me about how these programs can prevent incarceration.
The school resource program is considered to be the liaison between the law enforcement community, the school community and the community itself. That's where an officer is trained and assigned to a school in Hinds County. (By the way, I was one for 7 years, in the Jackson Public School System.) It's a program where officers are trained to go into the classroom, work with the principals, the counselors, the teachers and the kids, to educate students about the consequences of getting into trouble versus the consequences of staying out of trouble. That officer is assigned there day to day. He has an office there. He has a working relationship where he develops a bond with the community, a bond with the school system, a bond with the kids. It turns out that it's a positive crime prevention element that has been effective over the years. Since I've been out of it, it's still in place, and that's something that I would look into increasing—not only for security purposes. That's not what they're there for, but it helps as a security measure, the teachers feel more secure. The whole school system feels secure. The community feels secure.

My office was right here in Franklin Middle School. It turned out it was something the precinct commander started increasing. That community felt comfortable coming over to the school, having lunch with me in front of the kids, expressing concerns about the community. I would then turn that back to the precinct commander, and they would have a knowledge of what's going on in that community. The same thing happened to the kids. The kids would come home on the weekend and see things that would take place in the (Christian Brotherhood apartments). Because there wasn't a relationship with the beat officer or the precinct officer, I was at the school district, and they felt comfortable coming to talk to me about the things they were witnessing in the community. If it was such a heinous crime, I would get the information, because they trusted coming to me. In turn, we were able to solve a lot of crimes by me turning information over to the detectives or the precincts. Developing that trust, you are able to unify the law enforcement and the community. It's a good crime prevention program. Within that, each officer has the ability to use their ability to initiate programs, such as an explorer program. Explorer Program is a spin-off of the Boy Scouts for kids who have an interest or desire to be in law enforcement. I have some of those kids on the police department today. It's a very successful program. D.A.R.E. … The things I'm going to implement are not nothing new. They worked in the past, and they work today. They need to be brought back in so we can be effective. That's part of the "Pre."

What are the other two "P's?"
Present incarceration has to do with people who are already incarcerated. That's where your clergy's going to be involved, the pastoral care. A lot of guys that don't want to come back to jail, they want to work. Because they have a past where they've been incarcerated and can't get a white collar job, my intention is to work with the community—because of all the economic development that's going on in Hinds County, people need laborers, like construction workers, bricklayers, landscapers. I plan to develop a rapport with these businesses that have these type of job opportunities, so they can come in and work and train these individuals for work when they get out of jail. Not only that, but pastoral care, with churches in the community. We try to stop recidivism.

Are these programs that already exist?
They're going to be new. I know the G.E.D. program exists, and that's a good way for them to go ahead and finish school. But it needs to be enhanced to stop the rescindism (TK) rate. There are people coming in that have drug problems, so we're going to work with drug rehab programs and their families. There's a program called Fatherhood Initiative that is hosted by the Department of Human Services. I spoke with (the founder), and he's excited about coming to the jails and working with the fathers who have children outside of being incarcerated, to let them know that they have responsibilities. I've been through that program, and I'm sold on it. That's something I want to implement to the jails. That would be a must before they are released.

What about funding?
There's a lot of state grants, and money that is out there we can tap into. There's a lot of churches that have their own funding, and have their own grants, to fund some of these programs. We are going to utilize the clergy and the different organizations such as the drug rehab programs to track individuals who are released from the jail system to make sure they're doing OK, that they're not involved in any criminal activity, that they're involved in some kind of church activity, hopefully, and that they're actually in the work field. Hopefully, we can work with these organizations to keep them employed, so they don't have a reason to go out there and commit crimes.

That's one of the things I want to implement. You know, you can put people in jail all day. But some of these people have problems that we can resolve by implementing different programs to keep them from coming back.

Have you ever managed prisoners before?
I worked in the jail as a Jackson Police Officer. As a school resource officer, you know, school was out in the summer—

You mean you didn't get summer vacation?
We've always had shortages in the police department, and one summer we were very short at the jail. … So I have had that management training.

I'm sure you've followed the ongoing problems with medical care for prisoners. That may be more an issue for the supervisors, but do you have any ideas?
I don't. I've been talking with different sheriffs … to see how they're managing their health care. I do not have a good grip on that area as of yet, but I know it's a concern.

I think one way to deal with it is to have a good medical staff to make quick evaluations.

What do you think the Jackson Police Department is doing wrong, and what are they doing right?

I think (JPD) is doing everything they can do to solve crime in Jackson. … This is where I started back in 1983 with the same number of men that we have now. Since then, crime has changed, the population has changed, and we just don't have the resources to keep up with what's going on. They're doing everything that they can with as little as they have to work with.

The key to that is for the taxpayers to get the full benefit of what they're paying for, for the Sheriff's Department to step up to the plate and work the with (JPD) to help until they both can get on their feet—not just until they get on their feet, but after they should still have that working relationship because that's what the taxpayers are paying for, and that's what they deserve.

The answer to the question should be: You know where (JPD) is. Where's the Sheriff's Department? They have just as much right to help control crime in Jackson as (JPD). And that's what you will see when I become sheriff.

Have you endorsed anyone in the district attorney's race?
I'm only focused on who's going into the sheriff's office. I don't even know who's running.

What's your attitude toward government transparency? When the Melton administration took office, there was at least a year there where they were very unresponsive to public records requests. How familiar are you with public records law?
I have no problem with open records. I think if you're going to be a public official … the public has a right to know, whether things are being done right or wrong. I say that because of my training in communications and because I'm a public servant. That's what the taxpayers pay for. They need to know, and they have a right to know.

As the city spokesman, some people have raised concerns that you may be constrained in what you can say. Have you considered resigning that part of your job?
I have taken vacation until late August, unless I am actually needed.

So you're sort of on call?
Yes, for both titles, but I don't feel I've been constrained in what I can say. I believe in being truthful and fair.

It's just happened that as city spokesperson, all of the news has been coming out of the mayor's office. There are other things going on in the city that I would love to see get published because they're very positive, such as the things going on with our senior citizens and the economic development in our community. I try to put that out there. But because of things that are going on in the mayor's office, they are overshadowed.

How would you describe your relationship with the mayor?
I have a friendship with the mayor, due to the fact that I knew the mayor before he became the mayor. He was very instrumental in helping me when I was a school resource officer, when it came to working with kids.

How would he help you?
The Explorer program that I had—at the end of the year, when we had programs, WLBT and (Melton) would provide the certificates. They would sponsor trips. They would sponsor trophies, and the things those kids would need, like uniforms, membership dues. Anything I did with youth, as a school resource officer, they were there to help.

That's how we became friends. We had the same goal in mind of wanting to help kids and wanting to give back to the community. That's how our relationship started.

Now that he's mayor, he's the mayor. I work for the city of Jackson. I respect his position as mayor.

Did you support him in the last election?
I did. In working with him before he became mayor, I knew where his heart was, as far as working with poverty, working with underprivileged kids and families. I saw that. I saw him bury people out of his own pocket that couldn't bury themselves. That's attractive to me, because that's some of the things I would do, if I were in that position. I knew the passion, and it was unselfish. That's the kind of person—I'm an unselfish person. That's how we clicked.

Apart from friendship, would you describe yourself as a political ally of the mayor?
I'm not a political ally of anyone. I'm a public servant. I'm a person who grew up in this community, and is concerned about seeing my community come back the way it needs to be.

I'm not a politician, and I'm not trying to be a politician. … I'm running because I do know law enforcement—that's why I say I'm not a politician.

How would you respond to people who say, "If he's associated with Melton, we just can't let the chaos spread, so we just shouldn't take that risk." What would you say to people who are skeptical?
I would tell people to weigh their options—to really take a good look at Tyrone Lewis' background and his career. Look at what he has done over the last 24 years as a public servant to this community, to this city, and see where his heart and his desire really is. He has real passion to give back to this community, without any influence from anybody. I can't be controlled by anybody. What I do, I do from the heart.

The police department has been good to me, and it's opened up a lot of doors for me to be in a position to help others. When I talk to people about that, I tell them that I was here before Frank Melton was here, and I'll probably be here when Frank Melton leaves.

What would you describe as your proudest moment as a police officer?
There are several of them, but my proudest moment is to see kids, that I've worked with over the years, become as successful as I have become. We have police officers on today that I nurtured as a school liaison officer that are doing very well. I have kids that I worked with as a school resource officer that are making more money than me. When they come up to me, and they say, "You're the reason why I am where I am today," those are proud moments for me. That's what I want to continue to do, to work with youth and with senior citizens, because those are two of the most vulnerable groups in our communities. That's the atmosphere that I grew up in.

Hearing the elderly say, "I feel proud that I was a part of you have become." It tears me up, because they're handicapped now. And I feel handicapped because I'm not in a position to really help them the way that I could. That's another reason why I want to be sheriff, because they're in bondage. They're putting bars up around their homes, because when they turn the TV on they hear about home invasions. They wonder, "Am I going to be next?" And my phone constantly rings from people that reared me. I got a lot of mothers in this community, besides my biological mother. And it angers me. For them to put bars up around their houses—prisoners should be behind bars, not the citizens of Hinds County.

This sheriff actually had to arrest the mayor of Jackson, but he was fairly lenient with Melton when he did it. If you were in that situation, whether with Melton or another mayor, how would you handle it, whether you were in a position where you had to investigate or arrest one?
Being a law enforcement officer for 24 years, and loving the job the way that I do, the rules are the same for everybody.

Where do you see Jackson being in 10 years?
As your next sheriff, and being that sheriff for the next 10 years, I see Jackson thriving, with a law enforcement community that is going to be supporting economic development. You're going to see business thriving, such as Farish Street, Capitol Green, the King Edward Hotel, Standard Life. We got neighborhoods coming up in Jackson. As your next sheriff, I plan to work with (JPD) and other agencies to make sure that their investments are protected, so they will be able to stay in Jackson and in Hinds County. So our tax revenues can increase and the people of Jackson can have a tax base to pay the city employees and the citizens of Hinds County won't have the burden of not having a tax base to fall on.

I see Jackson as a thriving community, a city of lights, a business community such as Atlanta, Memphis. But you have to have the right law enforcement in place for them to survive. Without the right law enforcement, they will continue to leave Hinds County. The tax base has to be supported by law enforcement.

JFP Reporters Brian Johnson and Adam Lynch interviewed the candidates in the 2007 election for the Hinds County Sheriff's Office-- current Sheriff Malcolm McMillin, Tyrone Lewis, Lester Williams and Henry Grigsby--for their story, "A New Sheriff In Town?" (July 3, 2007). The transcripts of these interviews are available at jacksonfreepress.com

Previous Comments

ID
81419
Comment

It's pretty obvious that Lewis has no concern for the rest of the county. He could barely speak on anything outside Jackson. He is too focused on Jackson. The sheriff cannot replace the resources of the JPD. Period. It is an untruth for him to say he is going to help Jackson more than they help already. If Lewis is the one who has been training all these officers over the years, and our department is not preforming as it should, you have to say he is not an effective leader or teacher. Beware of politicians who want to serve from the heart.

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-07-07T11:27:11-06:00
ID
81420
Comment

Corrections made.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-07-07T22:38:10-06:00
ID
81421
Comment

L.W., thanks much. These are rough transcripts for informational purposes, and they didn't have time to proof them carefully before posting. These are lower priority for proofing. However, getting them as clean as possible is great. And now that you're coming online as our official site copy editor, you can make them yourself shortly. ;-) I'll go now and extend your permissions. Welcome aboard.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-07-07T23:20:59-06:00
ID
81422
Comment

OK, done. You should be able to edit any posts now. Just do typos. E-mail me directly about any substantive questions. Also, we use AP style, so no list commas, for one thing. Spend a bit of time with the style guide, and feel free to ask if you have a style question. Pay special attention to AP's punctuation rules. And everyone else, please e-mail L.W. directly if you see mistakes on the site. (This doesn't include posts by non-JFP people. We won't be copy-editing those.)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-07-07T23:25:30-06:00
ID
81423
Comment

No, it would not be good to edit ours posts... Im n ur bLaWg eDitiN ur PosTz

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-07-08T00:12:58-06:00

Like independent media outlets around the world, the Jackson Free Press works hard to produce important content on a limited budget. We'd love your help! Become a JFP VIP member today and/or donate to our journalism fund. Thanks for considering a JFP VIP membership or one-time support.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

comments powered by Disqus