Sean Tindell has held a lot of titles during his adult life — prosecutor, businessman, legislator, judge and, most recently, commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.
But of all the titles, the one Tindell, 48, has enjoyed most is coach. It’s a position he says had a direct influence on his current position and one he believes is a critical aspect of today’s law enforcement officers, Tindell said Tuesday at the Columbus Rotary luncheon at Lion Hills Center.
Tindell grew up in Gulfport and played basketball for legendary coaches Bert Jenkins and Gerald Austin. Although he described himself strictly as a role player, being a part of the Gulfport High basketball program taught him the importance of teamwork, something he has applied to his current job. His love for sports led him to coaching youth sports, a role he has maintained largely uninterrupted even as his career changed over the years.
Tindell was appointed DPS commissioner by Gov. Tate Reeves 10 months ago to take over a department that had expanded earlier in 2020 when the Legislature designated DPS to take over the state’s driver’s services, as well as the law enforcement responsibilities, then held by the Mississippi Department of Transportation — most of it related to commercial trucking.
As a result, DPS is now an umbrella organization that oversees 12 separate agencies, with the number of DPS employees growing from 1,100 to 1,400.
The former state senator and court of appeals judge said he has drawn on his background in sports as he considered how to best manage a department with such wide-ranging responsibilities.
“Fortunately, I was able to build a good leadership team,” Tindell said. “From playing sports, I knew the value of that. It is the men and women with boots on the ground that make it work, but you have to have the right people at the top to set the tone. So I looked for deputy commissioners that shared my vision. I wanted to take the egos out of leadership and hire the right people for the job, no matter who they were or where they came from.”
Tindell’s appearance in Columbus came just hours before the verdict was announced in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd last May.
The key to preventing tragic police encounters, Tindell said, is community-based policing that includes both patrol officers and supervisors.
“Community-based law enforcement is so important,” Tindell said. “If you are going to be highway patrol captain in, say, the Southern District, you have to live in the Southern District. It’s not going to be a system where people are just chasing promotions. They have to have ties to the community.”
Tindell said once schools return to normal operations, he plans to work with the schools to bring in officers to train the students about encounters with law enforcement.
“For a lot of these kids, they haven’t had any contact with law enforcement at all,” he said. “That’s true for kids from all demographics, not just kids from poor areas. When a teenager is pulled over, he may think it’s OK to reach in the glove compartment to get his registration, but the law enforcement officer doesn’t know what he’s reaching for. It could be a gun. So just some basic education about what to do in those situations is very important.”
Tindell said a law enforcement officer’s job doesn’t end with his shift.
“The job never stops as far as the impact you can have on young people,” he said. “That’s why I like to see our officers out there coaching those kids. Those are positive interactions that can go a long way. I know, for me, having the opportunity to be called ‘coach’ has been the joy of my life.”