The JFP Interview with Malcolm McMillin | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The JFP Interview with Malcolm McMillin

Photo by Aaron Phillips

Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin's office is home to several porcelain and ceramic pigs. Asked about his collection, the sheriff points to a Winston Churchill quote on his wall. "A cat looks down upon a man, and a dog looks up to a man, but a pig will look a man in the eye and see his equal," the quote reads.

"I like pigs," McMillin says with a wry smile. Friends and co-workers know this and often give him statues of pigs as gifts. No one has given him a real one, yet, but the sheriff said he would gladly take one as long as the pig is house trained.

When McMillin answers a question, he looks you in the eye and seems to say exactly what he thinks. He isn't one to skirt around issues or change the subject. His straight forwardness and down-to-earth humor are qualities that have helped him win re-election five times and remain in office for 20 years. The Natchez native has lived in Hinds County for more than 40 years. He received his bachelor's degrees in administration of justice and history from Mississippi College.

The sheriff, who was first elected in Hinds County in 1991, began working with the Jackson Police Department in 1971 where he coordinated the department's first Crime Stoppers program. He served a dual role as sheriff and JPD's police chief under the late Mayor Frank Melton from November 2007 to April 2009.

McMillin's accomplishments as sheriff include opening a new jail in Raymond in 2008, and adding a K-9 unit, a narcotics unit, a juvenile unit and a mounted patrol unit to the department. For the second time in a row, McMillin runs against former Jackson Police Department Deputy Chief Tyrone Lewis.

You've been sheriff for 20 years. That can't be an easy job. Why do you want to stay in your position?
I don't feel like my job is finished. There are a number of things that I would like to complete and improve upon. I don't think I'm ready to retire.

What do you want to improve on?
I would like to work with the courts and implement more alternative sentencing.

This budget year has been tight. How does it compare to other years?
The Hinds County Board of Supervisors, as you know, is the funding agency for the sheriff's office, and this year the situation (happened) because of bad decisions made by the board.

We had to resort to furloughs of personnel, and that took a terrible toll on employees who are in the low-range of salaries. ... When you are making the salaries that some of these people are making, one day's salary is a lot.

Are you optimistic about next year's budget?
There have been a number of decisions that the board has made (such as) plans for a regional jail that they intended to build and expended the money for. That could have been the difference in having to furlough people or not. ... The board of supervisors needs to be better stewards of their money than they have been in the past.

Do we need a regional jail?

Why not?
I don't think we have a need for it. We might need an expansion of the jail we have now or look for alternative ways to deal with our situation with nonviolent criminals. Other ways of dealing with jail overcrowding might be the answer rather than building enough jail space for everybody who needs to be there.

Address the overcrowding issue.
We need to look at alternative forms of sentencing and what we do with nonviolent offenders. There might be other ways of dealing with them such as house arrest, community service and other things that would be thinking outside the box. We need the space to lock up people who are threats to lives and properties of others—I'm not as concerned about those with nonviolent crimes.

Is that something you can do as sheriff, or must legislation be passed?
It's combination of getting legislation passed at the state level and some out-of-the-box thinking by judges who would propose alternative forms of sentencing.

Is that something you have already accomplished or something you are trying to do?
I did that as far back in the 1980s when I was working for the city of Jackson. We proposed a program where offenders who were assessed fines with the city could work those off doing community services. So there is no need to lock someone up for not paying the fine if he can do community service and work that time off.

With the budget you have, how are you stretching resources so you can maintain services to citizens?
We are able to maintain services, and part of that is due to a large reserve unit that maintains manpower on the street—that we need to enforce the law at no cost to the taxpayers. The only compensation they get is workmen's compensation. They work free of charge. We have more than 80 reserve officers who work in every capacity from patrol to jail supervision.

Without them, we couldn't provide the services that we do.

Do all counties have a reserve unit?
No. There are some counties that have reserves. They call them "posses" or "special officers" to supplement their budget. But none has one that compares to ours.

So they just want to give back to the community?
That's the motivation of those who want to volunteer. They are required to go through a training course in order to be certified by the state and be a reserve officer.

The majority of county employees serve under the will and pleasure of elected officials. I understand that you have an appeals process. Tell me more about that.

If I discipline an employee—whether that is from days off to reduction in rank to firing—they have the right to appeal to a board of their peers. ... That panel can either agree with the discipline that the sheriff determines or say it's too harsh or find that person not guilty. For the most part, I agree with the review board. I've turned over a few when I determined that my discipline was sufficient for the offense. That's probably been four or five in my 20 years.

You aren't required to do that?
I'm not required. I don't think anyone should serve at the will and pleasure of anyone else. People need to have their jobs and have job security. At the same time, I want to maintain control, but I want employees to feel that there is recourse and that there is justice there.

How do you work with all the municipalities in the county?
We have an excellent relationship with municipalities in the county.

Primarily, in the smaller municipalities, we often provide expertise if they have major crime that they're not necessarily able to handle. We send our crime scene unit and investigators if there is murder, rape or armed robbery.

... In the case of Byram, that's a newly formed police department. They primarily handle their own business since the incorporation. Clinton stands alone. They handle their own business. They don't have enough of a crime problem to request assistance from us, and they've got the expertise within the department there to do what they need to do.

How much of your resources does Jackson take up?
We work within the city of Jackson, but we don't regularly patrol. We don't have beats in the city of Jackson. We do have a street-crime unit that works prostitution, drug dealing and that type of thing. We have an excellent working relationship with the city of Jackson. We have merged our S.W.A.T. teams to where they work together and answer calls together. When you call for a special response team, you get a combination of Hinds County deputies and city of Jackson officers.

Crime doesn't stay in the same place, so what authority do you have in the county?
That's one of the fallacies that continue to come up in my opponent's speeches: The sheriff can do anything he wants to do.

The sheriff can do what he can do within the limitation of his budget and manpower. He has the authority and jurisdiction but doesn't have the primary jurisdiction for patrolling and checking that the city of Jackson does. They have the primary responsibility for answering those calls for service and regular patrol. We can assist, and if a citizen isn't satisfied with the service he got from the police department, he can call the sheriff's department, and we have to respond. The sheriff's authority goes from county line to county line, from Pocahontas to Utica.

How do you work with sheriffs in surrounding counties like Madison and Rankin?
We have an excellent relationship with them along with federal agencies. I read that one of my opponents said he was going to work together (with them), and that this ought to be the safest city in the state because the FBI is here and Marshal services and the DEA (federal Drug Enforcement Agency). We have people assigned to the FBI task force, the U.S. Marshals task force, and we collaborate and associate with every agency that exists now. I can't think of any way that we can be any closer than we already are. That's not a new idea on anyone's part. We've been doing it for 20 years.

Mark Sandridge, who is running for sheriff in Madison, used fear of Jackson to appeal to voters through his ads. I'm sure you have seen them. What is the effect of an ad like that?
I think possibly he has found that isn't the best way to address a situation. It's not good for relations between communities, and it may cast dispersions on law enforcement within Hinds County. But I think that's behind us now.

How many state prisoners does the county house?
This is one of those things that people have a hard time understanding. We have detainees housed in the jail, and we have inmates housed in this jail sometimes known as convicts. ... We have a joint county-state work center located in Raymond that has 200 state inmates and 200 local. Misdemeanor offenders can be housed there and can perform duties.

I recently stopped and bought some excellent tomatoes at the Penal Farm's produce stand in Raymond. Is that part of the work program?
That's part of the work program. We started off growing vegetables out there and had nowhere to store them. So we scrounged up some freezers that people were willing to give us. Now we fill the freezers up and feed inmates every day. At the end, when we have a surplus, we sell them at the vegetable stand and plug that money back into the food budget.

Are the inmates learning work skills?
They are, because a lot of them have never had a job until they came there. When you are working in the garden you are learning to get up on time, and report on time and do their job every day. But this is the problem I have now: We have limited space to store food. We need more freezer space, but we don't have the wherewithal to do that.

So you need more money in the budget to buy freezers?

What are you doing to counter recidivism?
One example is that we have 30 detainees (at the county jail) who are 17 to 14 years old, and I have a GED teacher that works with them. I house these separately from the general population because of their youth. We have been success in that program. ... We have Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous available to them. We have a program where they can take classes from Hinds Community College, and it's paid for out of a recycling program that we started.

Justice advocates express concerns about the prison industrial complex in which private companies and prisons ultimately profit from increased prison populations. Is that happening in Hinds County?
I have gone on record as being anti-private prisons and jails since the beginning of my career. I don't believe in privatizing the police power of the state, whether it's patrol, courthouse security or process servers. Those ... should be counted as a cost of doing business, not as a way for people to make money.

This past legislative session, lawmakers considered an anti-immigration bill. You said at the time that it was not a county deputy's job to enforce immigration. Tell me more about that.
My job is to enforce the law. What we have here—and when it comes to immigration policies—is the failure on the part of the national government to do (its) job. I don't have the wherewithal to deal with that problem. It's a problem that should be addressed by the federal government.

And it would be costly to the county to do this?
Right. Not only would it be costly; that's not our job.

I saw that you left a debate July 5 at New Horizon Church against your opponent Tyrone Lewis. What happened?
The invitation said (the debate) would include a four-minute opening statement, five-minute question-and-answer opportunity and one-minute closing statement. Candidates would have the opportunity to present based on election seat sought and then alphabetically. That's what I agreed to when I sent my money in. It doesn't say anything about a moderator.

If you arrived on the scene, and the moderator was one of your opponent's close supporters and an enemy of yours politically, and instead of fielding questions from the audience and relaying those to the candidates, he is taking part in the questions himself?

The second thing was, as an incumbent, the incumbent gets to go last. ... What that does is I get to go last to refute any allegations made and any statements made by my opposition. That's the agreement that I agreed to.

Who was the moderator?
Othor Cain.

Are you planning any other debates with your opponent?

Does the sheriff have any role in what happens at the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Detention Center?
The only dealing we have is that we provide a bailiff with the youth court. The sheriff is the chief executive officer of all the courts in the county. ... Those bailiffs are deputies that represent the sheriff in the courtroom.

That's the only connection we have with them.

While you were serving as interim Jackson police chief, you said you would fire officers if they were found abusing the Fuelman program (intended for gasoline purchases for government vehicles). You demoted one chief and transferred another one, but I don't think any charges were filed. What happened?
That was after I left. I intended for the investigation to go further. We found where the abuses lay for those Fuelman abuses, and that's all that was done about it.

Do you think more should have been done?
I think someone should have gone to jail for it.

What was it like serving as police chief and sheriff at the same time? It seems like it would be a lot of work.
Actually, it made things a lot easier. Tongue in cheek, there was a lot of cooperation between the two heads of the agencies. It was a lot easier for us to decide what our policy was going to be.

There were also a lot of services that could be utilized. We formed a child-protection unit that I am really proud of. It ensures that there would be more emphasis placed on that than in the past.

Is that still there?
It's still in place and functions well. The two child-abuse neglect units meet once a week. As a matter of fact, the first year we took 200 cases to the grand jury. It was a big improvement over what was being done.

How do you respond to allegations that you were part of a conspiracy to go easy on Karen and Stuart Irby?
I resent the implication that I did anything other than what was the right thing to do under the law.

That case was not treated differently than other case that came before me or that I was involved in as chief of police or sheriff.

What's the major difference between you and your opponent?
The major difference is that I have had 20 years' experience in this office, and I run on my record. That's one of honesty and integrity.

My campaign slogan is that "I'm the sheriff you know, the sheriff you can trust."

There is old spiritual that says, "Let the work I've done speak for me," and I will stand on the line of that.

See more candidate interviews, including with Tyrone Lewis, at

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Previous Comments


I will support Sheriff McMillian because he has done an excellent job but also he is a man of his word. I have never known this man to lie are be dishonest. I like this interview because this clearly shows that Sheriff McMillian fully understand and is prepare to deal with the difficult issues in the future. I know one think you don't have to worry about him lying to you!!!!!

Chef Tony

Read this JFP Interview with Malcolm McMillin (in case there ends up being a runoff!)


Having moved to Jackson within the last several years, I often find myself asked to explain to my Northern and Coastal friends why I am in Mississippi. They know the Magnolia State by its negatives. I give them some examples targeted to disturb their prejudices and sense of cultural superiority: the USA International Ballet Competition, the quality of the Symphony, scoring second row seats to see Renee Fleming two days before her performance here (not something you can do in New York for less than grand to a scalper), etc. One of the sound bites I particularly like is: "You have not seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof until you have seen it with a Southern cast and the part of Big Daddy played quite well by the County Sheriff". It may not be directly relevant as a qualification for being Sheriff (although lawyers and law enforcement officers do frequently find acting skills useful professionally), but it sure busts the stereotypes about our community in those Northern and Coastal minds. Richard A. Sun, CFA


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