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By NATHAN GREGORY
The Starkville Board of Aldermen approved to hire five new officers to Starkville Police Departmentâ€™s force at its meeting Tuesday in a 5-2 vote, with Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn opposed to the motion.
The new officers are Nathan George, Charles Hardin, Amber Hayden, Charlie Jones and Joseph Miller.
Hardin, of Sturgis, and Jones, of Starkville, each served in the Marine Corps and had tours of duty in Iraq. Hayden, originally from Utah, has lived in Starkville for two years and attended college at East Mississippi Community College and the University of West Alabama, where she studied counseling. George has lived in Starkville since 2004 and studied kinesiology at Mississippi State University. Miller, originally from Amory, is a graduate of the University of Mississippi, where he studied criminal justice and homeland security.
SPD Chief David Lindley said Friday was their first day on the job.
â€śThese are the most officers weâ€™ve ever hired at one time in my experience here. What weâ€™re trying to do is reload because we lost so many people last year to competitive agencies,â€ť Lindley said. â€śItâ€™s been a challenge trying to get the authorized strength back to where we should be.â€ť
The recent additions mean SPD now has 52 patrolmen on staff. Lindley said the department is allowed 55.
He said Haydenâ€™s hire gives SPD a total of nine female officers, making 17 percent of SPD staff female.
â€śThat gives us the highest percentage of women on a police department in the state, and weâ€™re very proud of that,â€ť he said.
Lindley said applicants must meet a long list of requirements and standards to be considered for hire.
â€śThey have to pass a very thorough background check, medical check and physical check as well as a (physical fitness) test to ensure theyâ€™re in good enough physical condition that meets academy training standards, then they go through psychological testing,â€ť he said. â€śAfter you make it through that process you go through a hiring board made up of command officers. We usually get an attrition rate or failure of 70 percent before it gets to interview stage. Out of people we interview, we usually hire about a third. The determination is on who best personnel are, which is another reason why it takes the amount of time it does. Weâ€™re looking for the best quality individuals.â€ť
New hires are subject to a one-year probationary period. Lindley said once officers are hired they must also successfully complete police academy and a 10-week field training officer program.
â€śWe have a good product in the end. Our people are so sought after by other agencies because theyâ€™re quality personnel,â€ť he said.
SPD Lt. Mark Ballard is the orientation officer and said he believes the new officers will strengthen the department.
â€śThrough my interaction with them, through process of background checks (and) through their initial weeks here, itâ€™s been very good,â€ť Ballard said. â€śIâ€™m very proud to have them aboard with our organization. Without doubt, this is a quality group.â€ť
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said the hires will make a significant contribution to an already strong police force.
â€śThe police department has been understaffed for several months now. We are very enthusiastic about a group of very qualified police officers who will be joining the force. Undoubtedly, these officers will do a fine job serving the citizens of Starkville,â€ť Wiseman said. â€śThe facilities remain a significant issue. One thing I think helps us is we have the reputation of having a very sound police department. That, of course, always helps us significantly in regard to recruiting. The challenge squarely confronting us right now is retaining those officers. I know itâ€™s something that Chief Lindley and his officers will continue to work diligently to address.â€ť