OXFORD – Growing numbers of University of Mississippi students and an increasing shift of social events to downtown has put extra pressure on the Oxford Police Department’s force.
After seeing video images of the chaos that resulted Monday night after a fight at the Lyric Theatre spilled into nearby streets, Oxford aldermen gave approval on Friday to hiring four new police officers for downtown control during the Ole Miss academic year.
“We darn near had a problem,” Mayor George “Pat” Patterson said of Monday’s incident, in which one officer narrowly missed being seriously injured. “We came within a whisper of having what we’ve all been concerned about.”
OPD Chief Mike Martin said downtown’s concentration of bars more than justifies adding the personnel.
“We’re talking about a four-man shift working 6 p.m. to 2 p.m. downtown,” he said. “I would require one person a shift to work each month on downtown patrol.”
Officials fished for several less expensive solutions before approving the new positions. Patterson had originally suggested hiring part-time security people to be assigned to work with each officer – a measure Martin said could make matters worse.
“Where half the fights take place is where a bouncer bounces somebody out on their head,” Martin said. “You get a security guard and have him working with the police, and he’s going to be too heavy-handed.”
Ward 3 Alderman Janice Antonow suggested joint policing of downtown with the University Police Department but was told police “mutual aid” agreements cover only emergencies.
Of the Ole Miss students who constitute most of the bar crowds, Ward 4 Alderman Ulysses “Coach” Howell said, “When they’re in town, they’re ours.”
The new officers will be the third major enhancement in downtown Oxford law enforcement in little more than a year. OPD added a horse-mounted patrol squad that has proven valuable for crowd control, and a system of 10 video cameras around downtown went live earlier this month.
Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal