Sheriff candidates Mike Arledge and Anthony Nelson appeared at the Columbus Exchange Club’s candidate forum on October 13.
Incumbent sheriff Butch Howard is not running for re-election.
Each candidate was allotted ten minutes. Arledge, who is running as a Republican, was the first to speak. [Generally the incumbent in the race is given the choice to speak either first or last, and the other candidates are taken in alphabetical order. This time, with no incumbent in the race, the candidates were taken alphabetically. – Brian Jones] Arledge is a former state trooper and Justice Court judge.
“I want to talk about my background, some experiences I’ve had and a few issues,” Arledge said. “I started off my law enforcement career as a highway patrolman. I attended the Mississippi Highway Patrol Training Academy. A lot of agencies will hire you and then send you to get training later. You may be out there, not really certified, and you’re out there doing patrol work. That’s just the way it is. The Highway Patrol sends you to the academy first – you’re not hired yet. There were 76 that were accepted to the academy, and 37 of us graduated.
“A lot of people think the highway patrolmen are just out there trying to write them tickets and find the closest doughnut shop,” Arledge said. “The highway patrol involves a lot of different things. I’ve worked in almost every division that the highway patrol has. During my career as a uniformed patrol officer I worked as a training officer, training new cadets. I was on the drug enforcement team. I was on the SWAT team. I did DUI enforcement.
“I went on to work for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics,” he said. “I mainly worked in the special operations unit, which did undercover work. I also served with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations, which speaks for itself. We handled any type of crime from homicide to corruption. After I retired I was fortunate enough to be elected two times as Justice Court judge. Justice Court handles misdemeanor issues, and if there are felonies we can send them up to the circuit court and the grand jury will decided whether to indict them or not.
“In the early- to mid-eighties law enforcement realized that drugs were really going to be a problem, mainly on the highways,” he said. “When I say mainly on the highways I’m talking about from the perspective of the department of public safety and the highway patrol. They invited the Florida Highway Patrol, who had been very successful at drug interdiction, to come and give us training about what was going on on the interstates and highways and what to look for. As a result we changed the way we did things. The highway patrol in the past taught you, when you pull over somebody, to stop the car, write the ticket and get it over with. Then they began to change it to more of an investigative stop. Of course you have to have reasonable suspicion and probable cause.
“To give you an example, I stopped a car with two people,” he said. “It was obvious that the driver was real nervous. I would ask questions to the driver and the passenger and get different answers. Long story short, he had a block of marijuana in the trunk. We arrested him, but we carried it a little further. We called in the MBN, and we got the local police and sheriff involved. We sent this guy – he agreed to do it to get some leniency – to the house he was supposed to deliver to and he got us some information. We used that information to go back and get a search warrant, and we ended up finding some cocaine and marijuana. There was some marijuana hidden in the fireplace, and we might not have found it if it wasn’t for this informant.”
As Arledge got to the end of his time, he briefly talked about what he would do as sheriff.
“I want to keep the good programs that the sheriff’s department has already got,” Arledge said. “That’s a good department, but there’s some room for tweaking. We’ve got school resource officers, we’ve got good grants from Homeland Security, the deputies contract with US Marshals. My main goal is to keep the citizens of Lowndes County safe and do it in a professional, efficient manner.”
Nelson is the Democratic candidate. The Democratic Executive Committee appointed Nelson to replace Columbus Police Department Interim Police Chief Selvain McQueen on the ballot after McQueen dropped out of the race due to Hatch Act concerns. He is director of the Lowndes County Juvenile Detention Center.
“My name is Anthony Nelson, and I have been neither a highway patrolman or a Justice Court judge,” Nelson said. “But what I have been is a deputy sheriff. I’ve been a dedicated law enforcement officer for most of my life. I’ve got 23 years experience. I have a college degree in criminal justice. I know the inside and the outside of the sheriff department. I’ve been through numerous places in the county. Unless you’ve been up to the Purple Chicken, way up in the northern part of the county, to break up a bar fight, you haven’t been a deputy sheriff.
“Anyway, I’ve been in law enforcement for many years,” Nelson said. “What it takes to be a good sheriff is dedication and a feel for law enforcement. You’ve to know the heart of your community. You’ve got to know what people want. You’ve got to address the citizens’ concerns and their views. Of course we’re going to enforce the law, that’s what we’re supposed to do, but we also have to serve as a community resource. The sheriff’s department is owned by the citizens of Lowndes County. It’s not owned by the supervisors or the sheriff or anybody else. It is part of Lowndes County and we need to do what is on the back of every police cruiser: protect and serve. That’s the mission of the sheriff’s department. If my deputies are on patrol, they need to stop and talk to people. The people know what’s going on in their neighborhood better than anyone else. If you don’t have an open line of communication between the sheriff and the citizens, you cannot operate. The community has got to be able to trust the sheriff. You can’t establish that trust without contact.
“I also want a more professional sheriff’s department,” he said. “The sheriff’s department is good, don’t get me wrong, but there is room for improvement and there is room for professionalism. We need to get all the training we can get. The police academy in Pearl has some good programs. The sheriff’s department also needs to be able to respond in emergencies, whether it be natural disasters or terrorist response. The sheriff should be the lead agency in any county as far as emergency preparedness is concerned. We need to forge alliances with surrounding law enforcement agencies and the city. We need to work more closely with the city. The city has had several recent murders, my idea would be to form a task force because anyone who has been an investigator – which I have – knows that it takes a lot of resources and time to take care of one investigation, let alone several. If we established a task force we could get a lot more done and cover a lot more ground and get a lot more results.”
Nelson pledged to get out in the community and meet with citizens.
“If I am elected I will spend time out on the road,” he said. “I am not an office person. I will do what it takes to take care of the administrative tasks, but I will also be out on the road talking to citizens. I will go to schools. We have school resource officers, but it would be more impressive to a child if the actual sheriff comes and speaks to them. The city has an Explorer Program, but the county has never had one. I think it would be good for us to join with the city in that. We also have a community college and we need to take advantage of that. They have a criminal justice program, and we need to get interns from there and get them to come to work for the county. We could get them interested in a career in law enforcement, and it would give us a chance to evaluate them and see if they’re a good fit for the county.”
“I’ve got 23 years of law enforcement experience,” Nelson said. “I’ve got a degree in criminal justice. I have corrections experience – I am the director of the juvenile detention center. I’ve been in and out of the city and the county, and I know the people and places in the county. We have a wonderful foundation in Lowndes County, and I’d like to build on that and make it a whole lot better.
“Nobody told me I’d have to make a speech,” he joked in closing. “I only came for lunch.”
The candidates briefly took questions.
The first question was to identify one thing they would do to make the department better.
“It’s hard to say one,” Arledge said. “One of the first things I would look at is personnel and equipment. If elected I would go in and assess each person that’s over each department and see if that’s what they’re doing and if they’re the right person for the job. I’m going to hold them accountable and tell them that if they can’t do the work I’ll find someone else who can.
“I know they’ve got some problems with equipment as far as computers,” he said. “They can’t run an NCIC check on their computers anymore. [The NCIC is the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. – Brian Jones] They have to come back from Caledonia or Crawford to do their reports.”
“As I stated before I am an advocate of community policing,” Nelson said. “I think we need to establish that, and to make our force more professional. It’s not that they’re not professional now, but they need more training. They need better equipment, as Mike said, and they need someone who’s going to lead them and be there for them.”
The candidates were asked about their experiences dealing with budgets and fiscal efficiency.
“I’ve had experience with budgeting by running the juvenile detention center,” Nelson said. “The last nine years I’ve been director, and I’m the one who implements the budget. I’ve been under budget every year that I’ve been there. I’ve got experience looking at what equipment we’ve got and what we need to spend on it so we get the most bang for our buck.”
“I’ve worked in every major division,” Arledge said. “If you work there, you understand what the needs are as far as budget. If you were to put me in a school or hospital situation I’d be lost, but law enforcement is what I know.”
The candidates were asked about the recent spate of murders in the city of Columbus and if there was anything the sheriff’s department can do.
“Most of that has been in the city,” Arledge said. “The sheriff deals with crimes outside the city. I don’t think there’s been any talk about the city and county coming together and forming a task force.”
“I’ve already stated we need to form a task force and work together as a single unit,” Nelson said. “The city is part of the county. If we don’t work cooperatively together, there’s a whole lot we can’t do.”