Special Report: County Patrols??

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Those who support keeping five patrolmen positions in Lauderdale County say the people serve a very important role. They are honorable men who perform their duties well. But what are those duties?

The patrolman do not work under the direction of the sheriff's department, as deputies, but are hired and fired and under the direction of county supervisors.

Longtime supervisor Jimmie Smith of District 2 says many things, from keeping roads safe to maintaining the integrity of the road system, depend on the County patrol. This reporter was unclear on what that meant. Smith said they check that roads are in good condition, that overweight trucks are not using roads that are off-limits to them, because abuse is costly to the taxpayers.

Smith has always been strongly in favor of the patrol. So has outgoing District 1 supervisor Hand Florey, who is not seeking reelection. So did the late District 4 supervisor Q.V. Sykes. Supervisor Ray Boswell supported getting rid of them during the last election, but changed his mind and supported keeping them during the past term.

Boswell now says he will make a motion in the supervisors' board meeting Tuesday to shift funds to the sheriff's department. It would, in effect, disband the County Patrol.

That would please Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie, who has lobbied for years to move the five positions to his department. He said
he believes it would give more control in their day-to-day activity.

This issue is not of legal or illegal issues. Years ago, it was sanctioned by the Mississippi Legislature. It's up to each county to decide if it wants county patrolmen, or not.

The question is, ''Is this the best use of the county's money?" What do Mississippi's other 81 counties do? Only one county, other than Lauderdale, has a county patrol.

Wayne County and it has only one, not five. When I talked with most of the other counties, representatives did not even know what a county patrolman is. The majority of counties I talked with say they never had county patrol.

So if all but one county in Mississippi, other than Lauderdale don't have a county patrol, why do we? What do we know that others don't? It brings up another issue. Is Lauderdale County still partially running a beat system? When voters years ago chose a unit system?

I talked with all Mississippi counties. Some have other names for what Lauderdale County calls the county patrol. Some are called environmental officers. But no county has five of this type position.

Craig Hitt has been in favor of shifting the duties of the county patrol and designating at least one to animal control.

New District 4 supervisor Joe Norwood said he has not hired a patrolman, but has a part-time employee to help with traffic during school hours.

Supervisor Boswell said he believes he has an agreement with the sheriff to have deputies monitor school traffic.