The following is the verbatim interview with Sheriff Malcolm McMillin.
Why should you stay sheriff?
My opposition in this race, their mantra is, "It's time for a change." Not that I've done a bad job, but that it's time for a change, just a change in the leadership. He hasn't said anything that he would do any differently, except that he would try to get along better with the board of supervisors. I've said in the past that I might even step down if it meant seeing him actually get along with the supervisors, just to see him try.
Tyrone's not a bad guy. I have all the respect in the world for him and his professionalism. He says it's time for a change, and I say it's not, and to quote the sentiment of Roosevelt: "You don't change horses in the middle of the stream." Right now, the Hinds County Sheriff's office is the law enforcement entity in the county that actually works. There hasn't been an increase in crime in the county that there has been in the city, and we think we're doing it right.
My opponent says it's time for a change. I've been sheriff for 16 years, and during that time we've had a lot of change. During that time we've had 10 police chiefs. We've had plenty of change, but what we need is a steady hand at the helm, operating the law enforcement agency in Hinds County, that works.
What are you doing to counter crime in the county area, in the face of failing funds?
It's difficult to make the board of supervisors realize that public safety should be their highest priority. It's my priority, and it's the community's priority. In every poll taken, it's the underlying drive in most anything. Public safety first, before you fund anything else. And it's difficult to operate when that importance, that priority, is not realized by your funding agency. Having them make needed repairs on the jail so it will be fully operational and functional. Having them understand that the criminal justice system is a system, and that if one area fails then the whole system stops up.
Mr. (Doug) Anderson says the sheriff's department takes up the lion's share of the county budget, and my response is, "So?" We're the largest entity in the county, have the largest number of employees, have the greatest amount of responsibility. That indicates that he doesn't understand that criminal justice is the priority.
But we're able to do our share with the help of the Hinds County Sheriff's reserves and other support from the community—our numerous neighborhood watch programs. I suggest you contact Susan Craig, who is my community policing and neighborhood watch/neighborhood association coordinator and let her give you a list of people in the county. Pick whoever you want out of it, call them and let them speak for the sheriff's department service, its response and the job that they think we're doing.
Do you think the relationship between the county and the neighborhood communities could be lost if you're replaced?
I couldn't say because I don't know what (candidate Tyrone) Lewis has in mind beyond him saying it's time for a change. He says he wants to implement quarterly firearms training, but we've already had that for 16 years, and that all officers should go through the Jackson Police Academy, and that we go through the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy. If the timing was right, we might request and see if we could get someone to go through the Jackson Police Academy, but we don't do classes.
Still, you put a high emphasis upon neighborhood watch communities. Is there a chance the relationship could be lost?
If something works, you'd think he wouldn't try to break that.
Are the neighborhood watch programs a significant tool for you?
Our neighborhood watch programs and our neighborhood associations are a tremendous asset to us. Our reserve unit, that functions as not only as an auxiliary to the sheriff's office, is an integral part of that.
You pay 'em?
What's the head-count of the group?
I don't want to give you a quote because it might be the wrong one. Tyrone's campaign manager asked what my budget was, and I was afraid to say anything because I might get the numbers wrong.
Give it a rounded shot.
I think its about 65 right now. That's the ballpark.
What is your budget, by the way?
We hover around $19 million, with an increase of maybe $100,000 to $200,000 per year over the last 16 years.
Are there any supervisors who generally understand the high priority on crime?
The best support I have out of the board comes from Peggy Calhoun and George Smith. They have a better handle on it. Doug (Anderson) thinks, somehow, that a parking garage in the Valley Title Building should take priority over public safety. He says you can do two things at one time but he just doesn't have enough money. You can't do those things at one time. I resent it, as does the community, when the board takes his position like that.
What about Ronnie Chappell?
Ronnie Chappell just thinks whatever Doug thinks.
Charles Barbour must have conflicting interests, what with his Republican desire to rein in costs.
Well that's the nature of the beast—or, at least, that's the nature of that beast. Sometimes you have to say that it takes money to do this, and I don't think what I'm asking for is outrageous. I think I'm asking for those things that are necessary. We're not asking for a helicopter.
How accessible are your people to the public?
My opposition has said on a number of occasions that every time you see a Jackson Police Squad car you ought to see a sheriff's vehicle. Now compare the budget that we have to the budget that they have, while keeping in mind that we have the whole county to patrol. We basically step in in Jackson when requested by Jackson, or we see a situation happening and we respond. I don't understand how somebody can say that they're going to clean-up crime and problems in the county when they haven't done that in the city.
Here's your chance to address those nutty, faulty locks out at the jail.
We've had two incidents recently at the jail. We had one incident when an inmate overcame the locks at the jail, his lock and the lock of the cell of his victim, and assaulted him, paralyzing him from the neck down. He's paralyzed now, and that's due to a faulty lock mechanism, and that's something that we've been complaining about for years, actually since construction. They've never worked properly, they don't work properly now, and we do the best we can do with the situation.
How do you do that? String a chain through the bars?
Well, then you'd have the problem of legal liabilities if you have a fire break out at the jail. This is a serious problem. You have to have time for an orderly evacuation to ensure fire safety.
What can you do with the faulty locks?
I'm not a lock expert, but I can say that one of the most important things we can have in a jail are locks that lock. Anybody who doesn't understand that needs to get on the right page. When a lock goes bad they have Hinds County maintenance fix it, but they have been incapable of keeping up with the work at the jail. Either they can't keep up with it or they won't. They have brought private contractors in, but then you have two areas where there are problems with the jail: electronic and mechanical—both of which you need to be familiar with.
We need to have somebody full time at the jail, that works for the sheriff, not the county, that will answer to the priorities that the sheriff sets, as opposed to the priority that the board sets.
What kind of legal liabilities does the jail create for us?
Huge liabilities, but I'm not going to say on the record whether or not a guard or citizen can sue us if something goes wrong. Here's something that I've done that might help with things, though: I've assured the board that if there's a lawsuit as a result of jail malfunctions that I do not intend to be the only defendant. I have copies of all the times that I have notified them of problems with these locks, that overall the jail is not being maintained properly, so that if we have a lawsuit, I want them to know that they'll be right there beside me.
Were the contractors who built the jail local?
Dunn Construction was the contractor. Since then they've changed their names because every time I say it, it's bad advertising for them. It was a mess and a joke, and the board of supervisors didn't look after the county. They didn't have a clerk of the works down there to assure that the job was properly done, that we were getting four inches of concrete—that we paid for—instead of two. That's the name of that tune, but we should go on to something else now.
Tell me about the inmate medical costs. Is that still an ongoing issue?
Yeah. Inmate medical costs have risen every year since the board assumed responsibility for it.
Yeah, but wouldn't it have risen under your authority, as well?
I can't say that. I can say that they—who thought, I was doing such a bad job—wish they could give it back to me now.
You don't think the rise in costs are connected with the rise in costs of medicine or medical service, perhaps outside the power of authorities to affect?
No, I really think it has everything to do with management. We have one hospital right now that will agree to take prisoners and the board of supervisors is trying to find an alternative to that. St. Dominic doesn't want the prisoners. UMC doesn't want the prisoners. River Oaks doesn't want them. They don't want a prisoner down the hall of someone celebrating the birth of their baby. Here's the only game in town—they worked out agreements with us, and the first thing that we try to do is go in there to ensure that they're immediately moved from our bill—our responsibility—to their own. That doesn't give a sense of security to the doctors or the medical center itself.
You wouldn't have tried that yourself?
No. I would have looked for ways to lower medical costs. We've worked with judges before and released people prior to their having to go to the hospital, if the burden on the county would be greater than the severity of the crime that was committed.
Also, the supervisors hired an HMO type person, and he's been charged to going around and seeing that we save money. I don't see how that's saved us anything.
Are there any parts of the county where you're putting a hard focus on? Your opponents say you need to focus more on the city of Jackson.
The first thing my opponent needs to do is focus more on the city of Jackson. Look at the crime rate in the city of Jackson. His primary responsibility, as a high-ranking officer in the Jackson Police Department, is to answer any calls within the city of Jackson. That we do any patrol and answer any calls at all is lagniappe, so to speak. What we do (for the city) is in addition to what they do. The primary responsibility of making a difference in the city lies with them. If (Lewis) wants to make a difference, I don't know what's been keeping him?
Sounds like you're taking Mr. Lewis More seriously than Mr. Williams.
Yes, I am.
Are there more sheriff vehicles in Jackson these days?
We haven't increased the number of patrols in the city of Jackson, though I invite you to call and get those statistics of the number of arrests that our narcotics officers have made where they are. You'll find that the majority of arrests they make are inside the city of Jackson. The majority of arrests the reserve unit makes are inside the city of Jackson.
What makes you say your opponents have been put up to run against you?
It doesn't take a rocket scientist—I think Stevie Wonder could see that.
Prove it. Throw out an example.
The mayor never called me and said I'm going to replace you, but I think his actions betray that. I have nothing to say about Commander Lewis, but I've had plenty to say about the mayor. Here's a basic question: Do you want the same thing in the county that you have in the city?
But beyond Lewis working for the city, can you establish a hard connection between him and Melton?
He's operating from the mayor's contributing list. Would that indicate that he's helping? Melton put him into the position as public information officer of the city, so that every-time the mayor is on television you see Commander Lewis. Another thing: I remember when I was with the city of Jackson, and I ran for sheriff for the first time, the first thing I was required to do was resign. I see that Lewis is still with the city. Should he still be employed while seeking office?
Why do you think the mayor wants you replaced anyhow?
I think his intention is to control both the county and the city, to have a sheriff that would let him get away with—let's say, 'To have a sheriff he could control.'
Why would he need control? The sherif does his job. He runs the jail. He carries out the will of whatever judge hands him an order. Am I oversimplifying this? I mean, what is within the power of a sheriff to alter in favor of the mayor?
There are plenty of things. One of those things is that the sheriff doesn't have a boss. Once every four years, the people decide if it's time for a change or if I've done a good job.
Yeah, but that's more a reason for him to run for the office himself. The amount of aid a sheriff can give a mayor seems limited.
I think I got a lot of discretion there. The chief of police's job is limited, but the sheriff's power is unlimited except by elections.
But going back to what the mayor could be looking for in replacing you, I just don't see how the sheriff's office can benefit the mayor. If a judge gives you an order to arrest the mayor, you've got to do it. It's not like you have any choice in the matter.
But I don't have to have an order to arrest him. If he commits a crime, I have the authority to do that. For a misdemeanor committed within my presence or a felony that I have knowledge of and a signed affidavit and a warrant for.
Do you think the mayor is afraid of you?
I think it has more to do with politics than anything else. I think his hand is in the district attorney's race and the sheriff's race.
At what point did you two part ways?
It began at the time of his election. He started changing then, and I'm the same person I was. I supported his campaign. I contributed to his campaign. I got other people to support him.
Just what I told you: He changed.
Give me specifics.
That's as specific as I'm going to get.
Do you regret supporting him?
Who do you think is running Jackson's police department: chief or mayor?
I've been asked whether or not Shirlene Anderson was a good chief, and my answer is I don't know, because she hasn't been given the opportunity.
Where else is the police department going wrong?
That's not the question. The question is what would Commander Lewis do to run the sheriff's office different? I'm not running for chief of police.
Your opponents say they would push for a closer relationship between the Hinds County Sheriff's Department and the city police department.
First of all, there is a relationship between the sheriff's office and the police department at the street level, and that's where it counts anyway. If there is a rift between the two entities, I'm not aware of it. You should ask the community if they want to see the sheriff's office operated the way the city police department is operated. The police have one of their key personnel running for that office. If the community thinks they want an extension of the city into the county then they have the opportunity to vote for it, but I think I've done a good job, and I run a good sheriff's department.
You have broad political support. Do you think the vote this year may be affected by Republicans voting Democratic in the primaries?
I think if there's a crossover vote, as there has been in the past, it could affect my final totals, but if you'll check the demographics in the number of votes last time, I had enough to win without a crossover. The other determinate factor is I think there'll be a significant crossover vote because if you call 911, neither Charlie Ross or Phil Bryant is gonna answer that call.
How much do you think race will affect it?
Every time I've run, with the exception of the first time, there has been a significant black voting population. The last two times I've run, there has been a significant black majority. I had black opposition in both those races, and I still won. I don't think people voting in this race will be thinking of color when they do it.
JFP Reporters Brian Johnson and Adam Lynch interviewed the candidates in the 2007 election for the Hinds County Sheriff's Office-- current Sheriff Malolm 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
I think the actions the Sheriff took this week with Michael Taylor and Melton show what kind of power the Sheriff and DA's office has independent of the mayor's office.
Right now the mayor thinks he can bully a fully functional business so he can tear it down. What is going to stop him from trying to use the Sheriff and DA to abuse the powers they have?
I kind of know where the questioning was going; but, Sheriff has to keep his poker face on too.
I can assure you that a good portion of the "reserve deputies" will leave the department if Sheriff Mac is not re-elected.
Tyrone’s not a bad guy. I have all the respect in the world for him and his professionalism. He says it’s time for a change, and I say it’s not, and to quote the sentiment of Roosevelt: “You don’t change horses in the middle of the stream.”
Okay, he says "It's time for a change" and Wake Up Jackson says "It's time for a change" also. Obviously we don't mean the same kind of change. :-)
But going back to what the mayor could be looking for in replacing you, I just don’t see how the sheriff’s office can benefit the mayor.
I don't understand Adam's hounding about the Mayor controlling the Sheriff's office. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that if Melton has his "do" boy as sheriff, Melton then pretty much controls the sheriff department and its resources because Lewis or Williams will do what Melton tells him to do. Kind of belligerent in that line of questioning there Adam...
I think the sheriff can handle it. ;-)
Oh, I know he can.. known him for several years. I just didn't understand why Adam couldn't see the connection.
I think Adam did see the connection. He probably just wanted to hear what McMillin had to say about it.
Jo-D, one hallmark of a good reporter is to ask questions we think we know the answer to, and to play devil's advocate to get subjects (especially elected officials) to support their statements, especially if they're controversial.
Besides, sometimes we're wrong and find that out when we press.
This, by the way, is called a service to the reader.