By Adam Armour
Itawamba County Times
MANTACHIE – “I love working in small towns; I don’t think I’d want to do anything else,” said Mantachie Police Chief Mark Roberts, seated behind his desk at the town’s modest, two-room department.
In a small town like Mantachie, things are generally quieter and more personable. The line between law enforcement and community is a bit thinner. It’s part of the appeal, the new chief said.
“You can become more embedded in the community of a small town,” he said. That’s important in law enforcement; he wants people to feel comfortable coming to him, voicing concerns. That’s what helps criminals get caught.
Roberts replaces interim police chief Brad Rogers, who took over the position left vacant by former police chief Richard Erickson, who left the force in 2012. Roberts began work on the last day of August.
A Baldwyn native, Roberts comes to Mantachie from the Saltillo Police Department, where he’d served since 2002. During that time, he held several positions, including patrol officer, investigator and assistant police chief. He has also spent time training officers and investigators in the Iraq Theater of Operations.
Roberts said the move to Mantachie seemed like “the logical next step” in his law enforcement career … a chance to head his own department. Just over a week in, he’s familiarized himself with the department’s small staff (currently, the department operates with two full-time officers – including Roberts – and four part-time officers) and the town itself. Everything looks good, he said.
“We have a good group of guys already,” he said of Mantachie’s current police force. “They seem to be really liked by the community.”
As for local crime, Roberts said it seems to be at a minimum.
“I don’t foresee any huge problems that the town has right now,” he said.
Small town crime
That isn’t to say Mantachie has a crime rate of zero. Rather, it tends to be more subdued than in a larger community.
“You don’t have a lot of crime in a town this size, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Roberts said. “Just like any town, you get people coming through running dope or burglarizing. It’s on a smaller scale, but it’s here.”
According to Roberts, being a small town officer can be tricky. In larger towns and cities, an officer may have a specific beat: patrol, investigation, narcotics, etc. But in a small town, where resources are limited, each officer may handle a variety of different jobs. One minute, it may be working a drug investigation; the next, it’s supervising a football game.
“In a small town, an officer has to wear a lot of hats,” Roberts said. “It can be a big challenge. They have to be schooled in all aspects of the job.”
Mantachie doesn’t have any specific criminal activity that needs pinpointing, Roberts said. He believes most of the town’s crime is transient … a random burglar or dope runner passing through now and again.
“We’re going to try our best to crack down on anything coming through town,” he said. “As for what’s already here, we’re going to try our best to stop it.”
Fortunately, Roberts said he knows the Mantachie Police Department has traditionally maintained a close working relationship with the Itawamba County Sheriff’s Department, bolstering the town’s forces when something big goes down. That close-knit, symbiotic relationship isn’t something Roberts is planning to change. In fact, Roberts has already had a working relationship with Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson, having co-commanded a SWAT team with him some years ago.
“I see a great working relationship with them,” Roberts said.
It’s a calling
When asked what brought him into law enforcement, Roberts shrugged.
“I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” he said. “There’s just no other job like it.”
It’s mostly the service aspect of the job Roberts said he enjoys most, working for and with people to make their lives better. A good law enforcement officer always remembers he’s there to make his or her town a better place for everyone.
“We’re just here to maintain the peace of the town,” he said.
And that’s worthwhile, rewarding work for those who don’t mind the long hours and occasional risk.
“You have to really feel a calling to do it well,” he said.