By Errol Castens
OXFORD – The Oxford Police Department has completed a strategic plan that better defined its mission, major goals and specific strategies to achieve them.
“I saw it was useful for the community to see what your goals and ambitions are as a department, to be transparent, to let everyone have a say,” said OPD Chief Joey East.
The plan was spurred by the city’s decision to update its own comprehensive plan.
“We want people to realize we’re not just going year to year,” said Megan Prescott, East’s executive assistant. “We’ve taken the time to come up with what we hope is a useful comprehensive plan.
“We’re taking your future into consideration by showing you ours.”
Three main goals emerged from the departmental self-study. First was to “reduce crime and the perception of crime.”
“When you compare Oxford to any surrounding areas, we don’t have the crime level that other people have,” East said. “Yes, we have auto burglaries and things like that, but a lot of that is people with unlocked cars: People are just walking around pulling on handles and stealing whatever’s inside. We could clear a lot of that stuff up just by educating people to lock their cars.”
The department has recently become part of the University of Mississippi’s orientation process for new students as well.
“We’re not talking about drunks uptown or DUIs – just quality-of-life issues, because that’s really important to us,” East said. “When you’re living in Old Oxford around people who are established and have young kids, and you’re having a party, they don’t want to be awakened late at night.”
On the other hand, he noted that the department is working to use data more effectively to increase patrols – or sometimes just courtesy visits – in areas where crimes or disturbances are more common.
Another crime-perception issue is that graffiti denotes gang territory.
“We have some cliques, but as far as actual gang activity – Crips and Bloods and that sort – we haven’t seen any of it,” East said. “When we see graffiti, we get it down immediately and try to target the individuals involved. We had a lot of ‘tagging’ (graffiti) for a time, but we found it tended to be college students – some locals. Each time we’ve been able to find out who it is or discourage it.
A second goal is to “become the law enforcement employer of choice.” East said he hopes to increase salaries over the next several years to make officer pay as much a competitive advantage as Oxford’s quality of life, the department’s reputation as a progressive agency and its extensive training and promotion opportunities.
“We’re competing against some well-known places,” he said. “We want the very best.”
Prescott said the department often hosts training that is open to a variety of law enforcement agencies, both as a professional courtesy and as a means of bringing more officers to see Oxford and its police department.
“If we host more training, it’s a means of indirect recruiting,” she said.
A third goal is to “prepare for future growth and increasing population density.” Its objectives are to determine staffing and resource needs, to develop an efficient recruiting and training plan and to plan for efficient delivery of police services to newly developed areas.
One outreach that will touch on all three goals is a revival of the Citizens Academy, whose first class will start next month. In its original iteration in the 1990s under Chief Steve Bramlett, the Citizens Academy was a 10-week class that got so detailed as to touch on constitutional law and other technical subjects. The new version will aim at about a three-week run, meeting Friday nights and Saturday mornings.
“The things you don’t understand why we do, we want to explain – why we walk up to a car a certain way, why we talk a certain way, why you can’t get out of your car,” East said. “We want to do some hands-on – getting behind the wheel of a patrol car and doing a little driver training, going through a shoot house. We’re going to try to make it a lot more interactive and fun.” The class will even include some department history as shared by nonagenarian former Chief H.C. Franklin.
“We’re going to have a good mixture of people,” East said. “(Deputy) Chief James Owens has done a good job putting this together.”
For more information on Oxford Police Department’s strategic plan or its upcoming Citizens Academy, call (662) 232-2400 or visit oxfordms.net/departments/public-safety/police-department.html.