Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell visited the McComb Exchange Club Thursday, giving an update about his department and a glimpse into its future.
Breaking down each of the sectors his department controls, Tindell noted existing problems for the state including wait-time at driver’s license offices, lack of staffing at the Mississippi Highway Patrol and the ongoing opioid crisis.
Tindell was appointed as commissioner last May and previously served as a judge on his native Gulf Coast, as well as on the state Court of Appeals, a state senator and an assistant District Attorney for Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties.
He said when Gov. Tate Reeves approached him with the position, he was surprised and humbled by the offer.
“All in all, it is such an honor to be heading up such an important agency, and one with such a good mission and really keeping the public safe,” he said.
He said over the past two years his department has brought the wait time at driver’s license stations down from 21/2 hours to just 20 minutes by modernizing the process and cutting down on necessary trips in.
He said between the ages of 15 and 21, a Mississippian will have to visit a driver’s license office at least five to six times on average from permit to full license.
He said reducing need and creating a smaller physical footprint his the goal for the office, adding that there have been measures, including webcams to show the lines at the offices and the ability to renew gun permits online.
Tindell said he works well with his Louisiana counterparts to transpose some things from Louisiana, such as its cybersecurity department and a phone application digital wallet that can display a driver’s license, vaccine card, insurance and special needs details.
He said the digital identification would be helpful in traffic stops for officers, noting that the driver would not have to fumble for his cards and that using bluetooth connection, an officer can know exactly who they are speaking with before they even knock on the glass.
Cybersecurity is a huge issue in the nation, Tindell said, noting that earlier this year a school district in Harrison County was hit with ransomware that cost them $500,000. He said it is his job to prevent that from happening again.
“In the future, we’re going to have a cybersecurity division for the will address the cyber issues for our state. ... We are to going to see more and more cyberattacks,” he said. “Part of that is defense, preventing cyberattacks, and the other is getting the ones doing it.
“We met with folks in Louisiana who have already established a cybersecurity force and it is pretty fascinating to see what they have done and engaging not just the public sector but also the private sector to be a part of their force. ... We are going to bring the same kind of model here in Mississippi.”
Exchange club member Chad Reed asked why the state would want to go more virtual when much of the state is still rural, adding he believed the license bureau’s should have more of a physical footprint rather than less.
Tindell said that by reducing its overall footprint the offices would have less traffic for those who do not want or cannot use the internet for services.
Another issue Tindell spoke on was the state crime lab, which he said has been understaffed since the at least the mid-1980s.
He said he is working to get more staff that can pull the work load off the medical examiners and produce more reports more quickly. He said his ultimate goal would be to have a medical examiner’s office in the southern, central and northern districts of the state.
“In Mississippi, over the last year, we’ve doubled the number of homicides,” he said. “It is a very taxing job, and right now we only have two medical examiners that work for the state, and it puts a lot of pressure on them to get those autopsies done.”
He said his main goal with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics is to break the cycle of abuse, noting that often drug problems go down generations and lead to other abuse and often human trafficking.
“It goes deep and there’s lasting effect. It becomes a multi-generational problem,” he said. “We are trying to break that cycle and MBN is on the forefront of that problem.”