McComb’s new police chief isn’t new to McComb at all.
“I wanted to come back home,” Garland Ward said in a recent interview. “There’s a lot we can do here McComb is a great city, a great place to live and it has great potential.”
The McComb native has a long history working in law enforcement and public service, having worked for the Jackson Police Department and most recently as an investigator for the Mississippi Attorney General’s office.
He was appointed in May to succeed former chief Damian Gatlin. He said he was excited for the opportunity and hopes to end his career in the city his life began.
He’s quickly gained his sea legs and has a lot in mind for the department.
“My main priority is the violent crime. We have to find a way to get these guns off the streets,” Ward said. “It’s too many young Black people dying on these streets of violent crime.”
Since Ward’s appointment, the city has seen the deaths of two young Black men to gun violence.
But he’s about more than promises, Ward has a plan to make it happen — beef up efforts toward community engagement.
“You’ve got to be visible to deter crime,” he said. “We have to get out of our cars, we have to talk to and meet people.”
Ward said that community policing techniques are strong weapons in the war against gun violence in the city, but that building a strong foundation of trust between officers and citizens is most important.
“As police officers, we’ve got to understand that we’re no better than the people we serve. Once we get an understanding of that, we’ll have a better police department,” he said. “It has to be trust, and we have to be transparent.”
Ward said building trust will help investigators solve cases as people feel comfortable to come forward with pertinent information.
“I don’t believe in using the word snitching,” he explained. “I believe in responsible reporting, which means that if you see something happen, it’s your responsibility to report it.”
Though the task isn’t an easy one, Ward said he’s confident his staff will serve the community with respect.
“We have a great foundation, a bunch of young officers,” he said. “We want to be aggressive, but we’re going to be fair. We’re going to treat people the way they should be treated.”
Building personal relationships between patrol officers and members of the community is an important aspect of building community trust, Ward said.
“As a police officer, if you show someone you care it goes a long way,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that people will forget, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel — it’s all about respect and you’ve got to give it to earn it.”
Ward said mentoring the community youth is one way to prevent violent crime in the future. He said he intends on building close ties with the McComb Boys & Girls Club Southwest Mississippi, which has a property adjacent the city law enforcement complex.
“We’ve got to teach our kids conflict resolution,” Ward said.
Ward said offering children more productive opportunities and mentorship will prove important down the line, but that building a juvenile detention center in McComb would help reduce crime as well.
“A juvenile detention center is very important,” he said. “What I’m seeing here now is that we’re having a lot of juveniles committing crime, so we need a juvenile detention center.”
Although there may be active gangs in the area, Ward said he believes the biggest problem with crime more often has to do with the youth.
“There’s a lot of organizations in McComb that want to be considered gangs,” he said. “Is it really gang activity or is it organizations? I’ve been told that it’s a gang problem here, but at the same time I’ve been to bigger cities and I know what a gang problem looks like.”
But an immediate problem facing the department, a problem Ward inherited, is that of a longstanding staffing shortage.
“I have two slots left it investigations and those two slots are going to somebody from patrol,” he said. “That means hiring two brand-new officers, getting them trained and up to speed and then getting them out on the street.”
A fully-staffed police department would employ 35 officers, Ward explained. MPD has 25 officers and Ward is focused on filling the remaining positions. He has, in recent weeks, hired two detectives and four new patrol officers and is working to build camaraderie and trust within the department.
“I asked them to keep an open mind,” Ward said. “If they keep an open mind I will earn your trust.”