By CARL SMITH
Legal, ethical, professional and moral.
Starkville Police Department’s motto may be “Protect and serve,” but each officer in the force is issued a coin with those four words — the department’s pillars of service — to remind them how to serve the community properly.
SPD’s Challenge Coin features the department’s official badge and uniform shoulder patch. The coin also features the eagle, the country’s sign of freedom and courage for protecting the region. The Thin Blue Line, an internationally recognized symbol of law enforcement, is also displayed on the coin.
SPD only issues Challenge Coins to officers once they join the department and remain in good standing. Chief David Lindley said the tradition began when a lieutenant who served in the National Guard paid for the coins as a departmentwide gift. The coin’s appearance has changed through the years, and the newest version was issued to officers a little over a year ago.
“This coin represents everything we stand for as a professional organization charged with serving the public. It’s a symbol of camaraderie and pride,” Lindley said. “I keep it in my pocket — most of us do — at all times, off or on duty.”
Lindley comes from a law enforcement family. His grandfather and father, Ancil Sr. and Ancil Lindley Jr., served the public of Noxubee County. Lindley said he knew he wanted to follow in his grandfather’s and father’s shoes and become a police officer while in high school. When Lindley’s father passed away, he buried a previously issued Challenge Coin with him.
Although Lt. Mark Ballard keeps his coin in a jewelry box at home — he said he’s notorious for losing things — he said he applies the words inscribed on the Challenge Coin each and every day he serves the community.
“Professional, ethical, moral and legal — this coin is about more than just camaraderie. It’s a reminder that you’re united for a cause that’s greater than who you are as an individual person,” Ballard said. “That’s what separates this profession from one where an individual works for money or their own individual gain. I know I am united with every officer on the force.”
Applying the four pillars, he said, helps make SPD officers better at their jobs than other cities’ departments.
“It only takes one bad apple for an organization like a police department to get viewed negatively. When one officer has a bad day, then the whole department is judged,” Ballard said. “This department is professional, does the right thing and applies common sense. We’re a smaller agency with a larger jurisdiction, but crime is lower here. It all comes down to our professional make up.”
Master Sgt. Steve Lyle has served Starkville for about 10 years. He said he joined the force to make the community a better place for families to raise their children. Lyle, a first-generation officer, currently has three children of his own.
“This coin is a representation of my family. I keep mine on me at all times, and I also carry an angel coin my mother gave to me,” Lyle said. “(The Challenge Coin) backs up every decision I make. If it’s not moral, ethical, legal or professional, then I’ve just made the wrong decision. The angel coin lets me know God is always looking over me, and that’s pretty much the same thing the Challenge Coin represents.”
Lyle’s said his father served in the Air Force and gave him his rank leaf. He also intends to save his current and any future Challenge Coins for his children.
“You work hard to get it; you want to pass those things on,” Lyle said.