Small town cops enforcing the law just like any other department

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Andy Taylor had to do a lot with a little when enforcing the law in his beloved Mayberry. In the several small towns of Webster Parish, men and women who keep the peace also find themselves doing the best they can with the limited resources their communities can muster.

In addition to the bigger municipalities of Minden and Springhill, chiefs of police help enforce the law in Sibley, Doyline, Dubberly, Heflin, Sarepta, Cotton Valley, Cullen and Dixie Inn. And like their big city cousins, small departments take their jobs seriously.

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“We’re out here enforcing the law just like any other department, regardless of the size,” Sibley Chief of Police Jeremy Robinson, who works a patrol shift just like his officers, said. “The big difference is the number of people we can put on the streets.”

Sibley, a town of 1,218 residents according to 2010 census figures, is located approximately three miles south of Minden on U.S. 371.

Robinson was first elected chief in 2008 and was reelected in 2012. He plans to run again when this term expires. Robinson said serving as the town’s police chief is his way of giving something back to the community he loves.

“This is where I grew up and went to school, the community where I was raised. To be chief in a small town, you really have to love what you’re doing. We definitely don’t do it for the pay,” he said with a chuckle. “I love working with the people.”

In Sibley, Robinson faces a bit of an oddity. His officers make more money than their chief. Robinson’s salary is set at $21,760 while an officer’s starting pay is around $26,000. Once that officer is POST-certified, the state of Louisiana will kick in another $500 monthly.

“That might sound a little strange, but I knew what I was getting into,” Robinson said. “I also have a full-time job, and I have a very understanding boss who knows there are times when duty will take me away from work. And, being on call 24-7 for 365 days a year, I also have a very understanding wife.”

Sibley’s budget allows Robinson two full-time and one part-time officer. Currently, he is one full-time officer short.

“I’m told we pay more to start than Minden, but it’s still hard to find people who want to serve,” he said.

“And when we find good officers, we face the same problems as the larger departments because some other department will come along and offer more money and better benefits.”

One of Robinson’s problems in the pay package is no retirement benefits are offered.

“That’s something we have to face,” he said. “It was the primary reason we lost our last officer, who had been here for four years. We like to hire officers who are already post-certified, but it is hard to do that when we don’t have the benefit package to go along with a pretty good starting salary.”

Although some small departments may have difficulties working with the town administration, that’s not the case in Sibley, Robinson said.

“In Sibley, we’re fortunate to have a very good working relationship with the mayor and council. I’ve gone to meetings and heard other chiefs talk about problems of a relationship nature. We don’t have that here,” he said.

Sibley Mayor Jimmy Williams agrees.

“I think we’re both trying to do what’s best for the town, and I think Jeremy does a very good job,” Williams said. “In a town where the chief is elected, he has certain powers and I have certain powers and there needs to be a good relationship between us. We work together as well as anyone around.”

Even though his town has a small department, and is one man short at present, Williams believes residents can be confident they are protected.

“With the officers we have and a chief that’s always on call, we have a constant police presence,” Williams said.

Jim Edwards has been chief of police in Dixie Inn since 2009. His duties are no different than other small town chiefs, but the manner in which he serves is totally different. Edwards is not elected, he is appointed by the mayor and council.

And, overseeing a department with two full-time officers in a village of 273 (numbers from 2010 census) is Edwards’ first venture into law enforcement.

“This is my first time as a law enforcement officer, I’m retired from the military,” he said. “Being chief is a lot like the military because it takes organization and decision making skills.”

In Dixie Inn, Edwards, who also works a regular shift, said he and his officers do much that officers in larger towns do, “we just don’t do it on the same scale. They may answer 30 or 40 domestic calls in a week while we might answer one in a night. Our biggest difference is the number of cases we catch, and we mostly work domestic disturbances and shoplifting.”

Dixie Inn’s town limits are hardly a mile west of Minden. The village allows package liquor sales and Edwards
believes one way to shortstop difficulties, especially traffic problems, is high visibility.

“You will see us monitoring traffic on the main roads quite often. I believe visibility is important. If you see us enough, people will watch their speed,” he said. “We’re not so much about writing tickets as we are about moving traffic safely. We believe the best law enforcement is acting as a deterrent.”

One of the duties of the Dixie Inn department is to serve in a support role when requested by other agencies.

“If the state police or sheriff’s department requests our assistance, we give it. I believe it’s important to help other law enforcement agencies,” he said.

Edwards’ ultimate goal is to make visitors and residents feel comfortable in Dixie Inn.

“We don’t get up in the morning and come to work hoping we arrest someone or write a ticket. Our goal is for our residents and visitors to be able to come and go and feel comfortable,” he said. “We want them to be safe.”

Dixie Inn Mayor Ava Nell McWhorter is pleased with the work of Edwards and his officers.

“Our department does a great job with what they have,” she said. “The best thing we can do for our police department is to try and keep them up to date with equipment and supplies they need. That includes educational and training requirements … whatever they need. We want them to be qualified and well supplied.”

McWhorter said the chief is paid about $2,900 a month and officers receive in the neighborhood of $2,300 monthly plus the $500 state stipend for those officers who are post-certified.

“They don’t make a lot, but we have good benefits including retirement,” she said. “Plus, Dixie Inn is a fine place to live and work.”

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