County officials are urging residents to take ownership of their communities.
On March 19, the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office and Board of Supervisors will host a neighborhood-watch meeting in the courtroom of the county courthouse.
OCSO deputies already have increased their presence in the community, stopping by each of the four county schools twice a day and speaking with local ministers. But to make a dent in crime, particularly with drugs and burglaries, the OCSO wants to forge a stronger relationship with residents.
“Law enforcement is constantly changing,” said Andre Quinn, OCSO commander. “We want to be able to reach out to the public, make them feel comfortable with talking to us and giving us info.”
Quinn said the meeting, which starts at 6 p.m., will provide residents with information on crime trends and tips to make their homes, and those of their neighbors’, safer. Quinn said the simplest but often overlooked method of community involvement is taking notes.
“Everything, from taking note of what vehicle your neighbor drives to when they’re usually home,” Quinn said. “Anything you can do to notice suspicious activity.”
The initial meeting is targeted for everyone in the county, regardless of community or neighborhood. While additional meetings likely will be held with county officials, the goal is to have each district and neighborhood build their own watch programs.
Additionally, neighborhood-watch signs — funded by Crimestoppers — will be placed in communities and neighborhoods around the county.
“We can’t do it alone,” Chief Deputy Chad Garnett said. “We want them to know we want them involved to give us tips and information. It’s a big county, and we’re a smaller department.”
Establishing a countywide neighborhood-watch program is the first step in Sheriff Steve Gladney’s initiative to fight crime without spending a lot of money. Prior to election, Gladney said the most effective deterrent to crime is building trust throughout the community.
Gladney plans to start a DARE — Drug Awareness Resistance Education — program with area schools, similar to what he did when he worked for the Mississippi Highway Patrol. Additionally, the OCSO plans to assemble an auxiliary force, which it currently does not have.
Garnett said the hot spots for burglaries are in the county’s densely populated areas, like The Links, The Highlands and The Pointe, where roughly 30 percent of the county’s robberies happen.
School crisis training
Wednesday, the OCSO completed its first round of crisis management training for county educators.
The OCSO started at East Oktibbeha High School, where it would take emergency responders longer to respond due to its rural location. Deputies will hold training sessions at the other three county schools by Feb. 21.
“We’re training teachers on how to react if an active shooter or hostage situation were to arise,” Garnett said. “I was very impressed with the type of questions and ideas the teachers had, given it was a short training session. You can tell they’re not just sitting around teaching; they’re actively thinking of ways to make the school safer.”
Garnett didn’t divulge the details of the training.
Oktibbeha County Superintendent James Covington said plans are updated each year with a specific procedure and codes teachers use to alert administrators of crisis situations.
The county schools haven’t had an incident involving a firearm since he took over in 2007, according to Covington.
The crisis training is crucial since the county doesn’t have school resource officers like Starkville city schools, he said.
“We’re away from the hub, so it takes a little bit more planning with all emergency-management services,” Covington said.
He attributes a decline in fights and suspension rates to teacher training.
“Teachers are on post and ready to react, especially at trouble spots,” Covington said, adding that the school hopes to hire student resource officers in the future, especially at East Oktibbeha High School.
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