By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS

The Associated Press

JACKSON - The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics has closed its training academy and is now sending new recruits to the Highway Patrol training school.

MBN Director Frank Melton, who has led the bureau since December, told legislators Wednesday that it was a waste of money for the bureau to have its own academy, which opened about two years ago.

He said the last class to go through the MBN school was all white.

"That was not acceptable," Melton said.

He said three MBN agents two white and one black are now going through training at the Highway Patrol academy.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Gordon, D-Okolona, said he had been trying to get MBN to send its agents back to the Highway Patrol training center.

"I appreciate what you've done," Gordon told Melton.

Melton said he needs a diverse group of agents on the streets, including men and women and people of different races. Melton also said he hopes to recruit people fluent in Spanish and Vietnamese.

He and Department of Public Safety Director David Huggins appeared together before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee to make spending requests for fiscal 2005, which starts next July 1.

The 14-member committee is hearing budget wish lists throughout September, and the entire 174-member Legislature will get to vote on detailed spending plans in the spring.

Some lawmakers praised Melton and Huggins for appearing together.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said it had been years since the Bureau of Narcotics and the Department of Public Safety leaders had worked in tandem.

Melton said there had been a history of the two law enforcement agencies not working together, and he's trying to get past that.

Melton asked lawmakers to give MBN enough money to fill all 225 of its authorized jobs. He said 178 jobs are filled now.

Melton also asked for money to replace outdated safety equipment, such as bulletproof vests.

"I'm losing sleep over this, ladies and gentlemen," he said.

The Department of Public Safety did not ask to fill any additional jobs. Huggins' plan would keep the department at 1,160 jobs, with 887 of those in the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol.

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