Communication key to public safety

By Staff
But we forgot one thing and that's prevention and deterrence. You've seen Homeland Security nationally move that way, and that's what you're seeing in Mississippi. We forgot about law enforcement. We forgot about what we should be doing to coordinate their efforts with the fire departments and so forth.
Another thing we've got to start looking at is the efforts of hospitals in the event of a disaster.
The Star: What has been another area of your department that you've been focused on since you were appointed commissioner?
Fortenberry: One thing we have been dedicated to since January is improving relationships with sheriffs. We've got to get past the situation where the first time you meet someone in local law enforcement is at a tragic event. We've spent a lot of times with sheriffs around the state.
The Star: How much of a hindrance is it when local law enforcement agencies don't share radios and aren't able to communicate properly?
Fortenberry: If you have a wreck and you have a highway patrolman coming from one way, a sheriff's deputy coming from another and a fire truck another way, most of the times they can't communicate. They have different frequencies and different vendors and everybody's independent. Some sheriffs have given highway patrolmen one of their radios, which is good. But everyone needs to be able to communicate.
Sometimes you just have, for whatever reason, historical problems between the Highway Patrol and the sheriff, the Bureau of Narcotics and the sheriff and so forth. And you get to turf battles.
What we're looking at is a system that's coming off the Coast, ASP program, Automated Systems Program. Sens. Cochran and Lott have been able to direct some Homeland Security money there.
I don't believe in re-inventing the wheel and don't care who gets credit. But what we're trying to do is coordinate our support systems, which is the backbone.
One of the things they're doing there is coordinating jail dockets in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties. As it is now, if one of those sheriffs or police chiefs is checking their jail dockets, how do they know if that person's been arrested somewhere else?
It's an important feature that would be beneficial to an area like Lauderdale. This ties all the systems together. And this will also build a foundation to jointly communicate, both voice and data. It's all in an effort to pull together.
The Star: There seems to be a problem here in Lauderdale County with the sheriff's department, Meridian Police Department and Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics having staff shortages. Is that a concern statewide?
Fortenberry: I think each county's different. I can tell you that probably a lot of them are under staffed. At the Highway Patrol or the MBN, we're getting to a critical phase in the state. The number of highway patrolmen is down and we average 20 retirements a year. We probably have 30 patrolmen currently serving in the military.
We've got to address the shortage of law enforcement and highway patrolmen in the state of Mississippi. I know it's not a good time to do it from a budget standpoint, but public safety is a big priority in the state and we're going to have to address it.

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