Texting, radar top law enforcement wish list for 2011

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Banning text messaging while driving and giving radar to sheriff’s departments are at the top of area law enforcers’ 2011 legislative wish lists.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson and Prentiss County Sheriff Randy Tolar said saving lives should be the top criteria while lawmakers decide what funds to allocate to the state’s police.
Johnson, Tolar and several other Mississippi sheriffs have been trying to get radar in patrol cars but have been unsuccessful. A bill to allow the speed-measuring devices in county vehicles has been killed at least seven consecutive years, according to Johnson.
“My number one wish for the legislators would be to let the county use radar to slow some of these cars down on county roads,” said Johnson. “There are more accidents where speed is involved on county roads than in any other area. People are losing their lives and radar is a tool we can use to slow these vehicles down. But right now our hands are tied.”
Tolar agrees.
“The state Sheriff’s Association has pushed for radar for years but it gets shut down in Jackson every year,” said Tolar. “We don’t want these devices to boost revenue for the county, but to save lives and make traveling county roads safer.”
Oxford Police Chief Mike Martin has radar, but it doesn’t protect motorists from drivers who are text messaging.
“We have to address this issue of cell phones and texting while people are driving,” said Martin. “It is a very dangerous distraction and it’s going to cost someone their life.”
Thirty states currently have laws against texting and driving and 11 of those laws were passed in 2010.
Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton, Tolar, Johnson and Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson all agreed that texting while driving should be outlawed.
When 2010 started, the usual drugs of meth, crack cocaine and marijuana were what law enforcers dealt with on a regular basis. Then the marijuana substitute Spice hit the market and the Legislature was forced to create laws to ban the incense that was sold over the counter but used for cheap highs.
Now law enforcers are hoping that lawmakers take the same approach to the latest, but more dangerous convenience store product, Ivory Bath Salts.
Dickinson said his deputies are battling people high on the crystallized salts on a weekly basis and the encounters are getting more volatile. The bath salt is a meth-like substance that can be found in stores and is smoked to gain a high. It causes hallucinations and problems for law enforcement.
“My number one concern is for someone to do something about this Ivory Salt,” said Dickinson. “I’ve had deputies injured from wrestling people on it and it’s getting worse. This stuff is serious and someone will be hurt or killed and it could be a deputy.”
Other hot-button issues for officers are retirement benefits, better certification requirements for sheriffs and serial number regulation changes for ATVs.
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.