By NATHAN GREGORY
Starkville Police Department’s program to help clean up the city while allowing residents who have been charged with crimes to work off their fines has been active for nearly 10 years, Chief David Lindley said, and the operation has been a win-win situation for the city since its inception.
The program, which Lindley expanded from a Saturday-only opportunity to be available on weekdays, offers a chance to those who would normally not have the means to pay fines out of pocket nor the schedule to work them off on Saturdays to be able to do so.
The program is enforced by SPD’s Community Oriented Policing Unit, which consists of Sergeant Mike Edwards, Master Officer Laura Hines Roberson, Officer Brandon Gann and Officer Bruce Smith.
Roberson said the duties participants are tasked with include washing SPD cars and cleaning facilities as well as picking up litter all over the city limits. Those who have committed less severe violations will sometimes be issued clerical work, she said.
“It works really good, especially with the economy the way it is right now, where if they’re unable to pay fines and they have a job and they’re barely making it with the job they have, they can take $58 a day off their fines,” she said. “(Today) there’s a need with at the airport to pull weeds. Sometimes areas in the community will call us and tell us there’s a lot of garbage there. We’ve also used them to paint over gang tags.”
Lindley said the program also helps SPD from a budgetary standpoint.
“This is a way to enable them to be productive and avoid incarceration. It also helps the fact that when you incarcerate somebody you’re spending $35 a day. That comes straight out of our budget, has a negative economic impact on the city and is not benefitting anyone,” Lindley said. “Sometimes people are … incapable of paying their fines and they could find themselves in contempt of court, which could possibly cause them to have to be incarcerated. This gives them an alternative to that.”
Roberson said participants have the option of working off a portion of their fines or working until their debt is paid in full. People who have committed misdemeanors or, in some cases, felonies can use the program, she said.
“It’s actually even better for (those with convicted with felonies) in a way because $2-3,000, somebody without a job or a fixed income, there’s no way to get out of that. It’s just a perpetual cycle,” she said. “It is a good bridge between them and employment because they can use it as a reference.”
During Mississippi State University football season, Roberson said the participants are particularly helpful in cleaning up after games.
“The roads are a really big thing we do. We’re a college town, so we definitely have a mess after game days,” she said. “It’s positive for the workers because after they go through this they see pollution differently. I try to encourage them and say, ‘Thank you for making Starkville beautiful.’”