ABERDEEN – In wrapping up an explanation of the immediate future of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Kevin Crook pulled out a sealed DVD of “The Green Mile,” saying analyzing Tom Hanks’ character as a corrections officer will be training for his jailers.
A sense of compassion, encouraging leadership and upholding justice is a part of Crook’s vision for the next four years of his term in office.
“This department is bigger than us. We’ve got a four-year, eight-year or 12-year window, whatever the people of this county and the Lord allow, and we want to do the most with it. We want to make the deepest impact in our community in that four-year period. “Whether I get elected or not, the goal is to make that positive impact to see as many lives changed and be a part of. Whether that’s restoring people’s lives, restoring homes or neighborhoods, it’s all about making Monroe County a success. If they can buy into that, I think we’ll be better off,” he said.
Justice and mercy
Soft-spoken and kindhearted, some people’s thoughts during Crook’s campaign were that he would be soft on crime.
“I understand justice, and we are going to do justice and protect the widows and the orphans and the community from the criminal element. At the same time, we understand once we’ve stopped it, how can we facilitate change and do our part to help criminals get on the right path,” he said. “It’s justice and mercy; not justice or mercy.”
Crook said the public should expect to see fewer arrest reports released to the media before a person is found guilty of a crime. Instead, he plans to release such information after sentences and convictions are handed down in court.
“People are still getting arrested on drug charges. It’s just not a priority to put all of that out,” he said.
As far as a localized battle against drugs, a rehabilitation approach will be folded in with law enforcement with the public’s help.
“It’s finding people in the community passionate about rehabilitation and life change. I’m trusting the Lord is going to provide those people who have those passions to work with us. I can’t do it all. I probably get five calls a day from families that are just exhausted because their loved ones are addicted and are spiraling, and they all say the same thing – ‘I think they’re going to end up dead,’’ he said, adding he’d like to bring together people and resources to help those families.
Additionally, he plans to start programs inside the Monroe County Detention Center to steer inmates on the right path.
“We’re going to start building there and seeing what they need to do when they get out and get on their feet. The goal is to put ourselves out of business,” he said.
There will also be more jail ministry. Additionally, five chaplains from different religious denominations have been sworn in, and he would like to have one work on each shift to see what the deputies see on a daily basis.
During a recent staff meeting, Crook told his employees the MCSO is in phase one of a transition, which includes getting basic training, equipment and certification that’s required for them to do their jobs.
“That’s what we did in that four-month window [during the latter part of 2019]. We didn’t completely get there, but we’re working on it now,” Crook said. “I told them it feels like we probably did two years of change in four months. I appreciated everybody’s willingness to be flexible. They knew changes needed to be made, whether they agreed with it or not. I think we’re in a good position now to start the new year.”
He said there will be more training, including regular physical fitness and also gun range training near Tombigbee Pawn & Gun in Amory, owned by MCSO onsite range officer Tim Oswalt.
“We’ve corrected some issues concerning lack of certifications within the department,” Crook said.
The MCSO has 81 employees on payroll, and there are officers from other departments in Monroe County and neighboring counties who will help in any way.
“We lose jurisdiction at those county lines, and part of the reason we all need to work together allows our deputies to cross into that county and have the same arrest powers and jurisdiction there as they do here,” Crook said.
He noted one of the most recent hires, Tyrone Heard, who is the new school resource officer for Aberdeen Elementary School. He is a former Tupelo SWAT officer who has worked contract security detail in the Middle East.
“Having people with his credentials wanting to work with our department…his heart is to come here and get involved in the community,” Crook said.
The North Mississippi Narcotics Unit will vote this month on whether or not the MCSO will rejoin the agency, which will offer additional resources. Working relationships with other neighboring counties will also help with intelligence and serving wherever there’s a need.
Crook said upgrades on equipment, such as vehicles, and training will take up a good bit of the MCSO’s budget in the first year. A continued effort through his tenure as sheriff will be efficiency to save taxpayer money and benefit the county.
Ultimately, he’d like for the MCSO to have its own part-time academy to even help other departments and be able to certify jailers in-house.
He said the jail’s staff has increased from 12 to 16 correction officers and he wants four deputies to be on each shift through future phases of transition. The MCSO now has three narcotics officers and three full-time investigators and one part-time investigator, which he said is the most the department has had.
“I anticipate us spending time on cold cases and designating a certain amount of time a week to come together and sit down and look through those together to keep those things fresh on our minds,” he said.
Programs such as work center inmates helping various nonprofits and county and city departments, and also litter control, will continue. Crook has spoken with Monroe County Justice Court Judge Sarah Stevens about the possibility of a community service option for people who can’t pay fines.
As far as the biggest promise to the people of Monroe County, Crook said it’s making sure the department is the most equipped and trained it can be to protect and serve them.
“I want people to trust this department. We’re here for them. Don’t hesitate to call us and other departments too. Trust is a big thing, and I want it to be a big thing for this department.
Along with building trust comes the community’s part in helping law enforcement.
“I want a community policing mindset. It’s not a program; it’s a way of life and a way of thinking we need each other. We need to build relationships to make that happen. I think God is doing something in Monroe County, and we want to play our part well,” Crook said.
Focus groups providing neighborhood watch is a priority to help with community relations and to clean up neighborhoods.
“We’re looking for volunteers and who are the right community leaders interested in helping us establish that,” he said.
Anyone wishing to be involved can call the MCSO at 369-2468 to leave their contact information and area in which they live.
Deputies have recently taken the lead on a couple of outreach and equipment efforts. The MCSO will partner with Amory police officers later this month for a community service project to patch the roof of a former law enforcement officer.
“I want us to have opportunities for our people to serve freely,” Crook said. “It’s just part of the culture. You’ve got to do things like that to serve.”
Someone brought up the need for the repair to one of the investigators, and he headed it up. Last week, the MCSO received an armored mine-resistant vehicle formerly used by the U.S. Marines. The fundraising effort to secure it was headed up by one of the deputies as well.
“The things they have on their hearts, they can bring to me and I can give it the green light if it’s a good thing. I appreciate their initiative,” Crook said. “Morale is good. From the get-go, we wanted to restore those relationships within the county, and I think that’s happened. [Amory Police] Chief [Ronnie] Bowen and [Aberdeen Police] Chief [Henry] Randle have both been great for anything I’ve needed or asked, and we hope to return that favor.”