Meridian, Miss. Since February, department veteran, James Sharpe, has served as Meridian's interim chief. He was appointed to that position by Mayor Cheri Barry, who lost her bid for a second term. Sharpe was present as new Mayor Percy Bland recommended someone else to permanently take over the duties.
By a vote of 4-1, James Lee was chosen as the new police chief. The one opposing vote came from new council member, Randy Hammon, who represents Ward 5.
"Because I feel like the acting police chief was already doing the job," said Hammon. "And I've always been a firm believer of people doing the jobs, and with more experience, more local experience, being the correct choice."
"Chief Sharpe is a smart guy; he's a good guy. I don't see any problem with us working together," said Lee.
When it comes to curbing crime in Meridian, Chief Lee says a great part of his focus will go to improving the department's overall relationship with the community.
"We're going to get out of the cars, and we're going to go back to the community and we're going to talk to people to find out what their concerns are, why they're afraid and what we can do to help," said Lee.
Chief Lee said he also wants to introduce an incentive or rewards program for officers.
"Imagine if we can take a police officer and give him a rebuilt house by the city or let him lease a rebuilt house by the city, or low cost, give him a cell phone or police car and put him in the neighborhood where neighbors can knock on his door," said Lee. "Then they're knocking on their neighbor's door, not the police, because we want to take away this image that 'they're the police!' How about, 'we're just people'?
At this time Chief Lee says it's too early to determine how long it will take to start the rewards program. He's says he plans to examine his budget. Depending on what he can do, along with possible assistance from the city council, Lee says he plans to start by placing one officer in a community and go from there.
For the last five years Lee has served as director for Mississippi's Office of Homeland Security. He comes to Meridian with previous experience as chief of police in the towns of Lexington and Pickens, Miss.