New Oktibbeha County Chief Deputy Chadd Garnett said he feels honored and lucky to serve in his new role.
“I consider it a privilege to be able to serve the citizens of Oktibbeha County,” he said. “I want all of them to know everybody at the sheriff’s department is out there working hard and making sure their community is a safe place to live and raise their kids.”
Garnett is no stranger to Starkville and Oktibbeha County. Before beginning work at his current position this week he served in multiple positions at Starkville Police Department for a decade.
“I’m a Golden Triangle boy,” he said. “I was born in Starkville, grew up in West Point, lived in Columbus and now I’m back here.”
He said it was during his upbringing and after graduating high school from Oak Hill Academy in 1986 that he developed an interest in law enforcement.
“I got interested in law enforcement probably for the same reason a lot of people are in it: from watching it on TV shows, seeing it (and) wondering if that was the way it really was,” he said.
Garnett said he got his first taste of law enforcement in 1991 when a friend was a member of the Auxiliary Police Department in Columbus. He was interested in getting a better idea of what the routine of a police officer was like, but didn’t want to fully commit until he decided what he truly wanted to do.
“I had a pretty decent job (before and while joining the Auxiliary Police Department), but I joined on a trial basis to make sure I wasn’t about to take a pay cut to get in law enforcement, hate it and not be able to get my job back,” he said. “Back then the auxiliary department (was its own entity). You had to go to class one night a week where they showed you the basics, and you worked for free. You dressed exactly like a patrolman and you had to ride with a patrolman.”
Garnett said it didn’t take long as a part-time officer to realize he had found his calling.
“After a year — if you stayed on a year — the chief of police had decided you put enough hours in and they had enough confidence in you to put you in a car by yourself and let you work a beat,” he said. “I got to that point on auxiliary and was working more than the minimum eight hours a month because I really liked it.”
Not long after serving as an auxiliary member, opportunity came calling. He was hired in Columbus as a full-time officer in 1992 and would serve in that capacity for seven years.
“There was an advantage to the Columbus Police Department because when they hired me they told me to keep doing what I had been doing but I’d be receiving checks,” he said. “They got free work and I was already trained when they hired me.”
In 1999, Garnett took a brief detour from law enforcement and started his own mobile home business in Tupelo. He wasn’t in business for long, though. His mother, who lives in West Point, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. It was then Garnett decided he needed to be closer to home.
“I’m one of those guys who believes families come first,” he said. “My father passed away in 1998. My brothers and sisters were close to my mother, but I felt like I needed to come back so I would be there if she needed me.”
Shortly after he moved back, he made a visit to Starkville Police Department to visit then-Acting Chief David Lindley and ask him if there was an opening at the department.
“He called me back a few days later and said he presented me to the (Starkville Board of Aldermen),” Garnett said. “They hired me and I started back here soon after I moved.”
Garnett said there were plenty of adjustments he had to make when he found himself back on the force.
“I was hired as a patrol officer and was considered a rookie again even though I had seven years of experience in Columbus,” he said. “I had to re-learn everything Starkville did.”
Garnett worked as a patrolman for three years before applying for the investigation division.
“I love investigations — that’s my heart,” he said. “When you get a case assigned to you in investigations you get to see it all the way through, whether it’s an acquittal or a conviction, and you get to be the one to close the case.”
After two years in the investigative division, he was moved back to patrolman status for a brief time because of a personnel shortage. When more officers were hired, he was moved back to investigations and eventually promoted to Sergeant. He noted this as a highlight of his career.
“Promotions are something I strive for in law enforcement because I love law enforcement, but at a certain point in my career I didn’t want to just be considered a law enforcement officer,” he said. “I wanted to move up and be able to make some decisions.”
He was placed in the narcotics division, a move he said he was not expecting.
“I had never worked in narcotics and didn’t know a whole lot about it, but after they put me there I think (my colleagues and I) excelled,” he said. “After narcotics, they did some shifting around. Because Chief Lindley is personable with people and knew investigations were my love, he put me back into being the sergeant over the investigation division.”
Garnett remained in that capacity for four years before he, along with all the senior sergeants from specialized units, was put back on patrol in order to train younger officers who had recently been hired. The move would be his last before he moved to his current position.
Garnett said two people he looked up to in law enforcement are his former boss, Lindley, and his new boss, Sheriff Steve Gladney. He said what he learned under Lindley’s tutelage prepared him for where he is now.
“There are so many people that have influenced my career – too many to name — but Chief Lindley afforded me so many opportunities while I worked under him,” he said. “If it weren’t for him and the opportunities he gave me — the training and challenges he put on me when I was at the police department — I probably would have been scared to death when I was offered this position, but he is one of those who has confidence in his people and he tries to train them to be leaders. I wouldn’t be in this position if not for him.”
He said he considers his current boss a close friend and is humbled to have the chance to work with him.
“I don’t know if you’ll ever meet a man like Sheriff Gladney. It was an honor for me to be considered for this position. (Citizens) have a lot of faith in a sheriff to vote him in, but it was his choice to choose me,” he said. “He’s going to be brutally honest, but when he tells you he’s going to do something it’s going to be done, and he expects the same from me. I would have probably come to work for him if he had offered me a straight deputy job. I have that much confidence in him as a man and a law enforcement officer. The job isn’t what got me down here; it was the man.”
He said replacing former Chief Deputy George Carrithers is not going to be an easy task because of the amount of expertise and character he displayed in his tenure.
“Legend may be a big word but Chief Carrithers had been chief deputy longer than anyone in the state of Mississippi. It’s tough step into those shoes. There are a lot of expectations. He’s a good man and he did a great job,” he said. “I believe if I picked up the phone called him right now he’d be here to help me do whatever I needed help with. To be able to do what he did to the level he did it for so many years, he’s a legend.”
Garnett also worked closely with former Sheriff Dolph Bryan since moving to Starkville and described him as a close friend.
“I think Sheriff Bryan and I had that relationship of respect where I would stop anything I was doing when he needed me and he would have done the same for me,” Garnett said. “He did a great job, he’s a great man and I consider him a friend.”
Although he has endured many difficult situations during his career, he says the good far outweighs the bad, and there are too many highlights for him to remember. Two of which happened while he worked with Chief Lindley when he earned his associate degree in criminal justice in 2003 from East Mississippi Community College and his bachelors degree two years later at Mississippi State University.
He also considers situations where people took time out to tell him he made a difference as positives to draw from.
“There are so many calls you take where if you know you got to somebody and helped them understand how to get out of a bad situation. If you get to help one person, it’s worth your whole career. I think it’s about making a good difference in peoples’ lives,” he said. “I’ve arrested people who have come back and told me ‘You saved my life; I was going down a track that wasn’t going to be anything good for me.’ It means a lot when somebody tells you that.”
He said another one of his loves in his profession is teaching.
“When I decided I wanted to be an instructor I realized something that is close to me is safety of officers. It kills me to read an article where a police officer is injured or killed in an incident,” he said. “Something that made me feel good was training officers. Instruction was a big part of my career (at SPD).”
Two things Garnett said he would like to make happen as chief deputy are getting more training for city, county and university enforcement officers and helping to change the image of law enforcement officers.
“I don’t want anyone working under me to get hurt. Training is going to be a big emphasis of mine,” he said. “We’re looking into options and ideas of how we can put the training to where all three agencies are doing different kinds of training together. We don’t have a lot of people out there working and we may have to call for help.”
He said while he serves as chief deputy he wants to stress to Oktibbeha County youths the dependability and reliability of OCSO patrolmen.
“A lot of times people will say to their kids, ‘ You better put on your seat belt or that policeman is going to take you to jail,’ but I hate that,” he said. “I want kids to think when they see a police officer they can say ‘If I need help, there he or she is.’”
He said he’s anticipating working with everybody in the department to make it to make it as strong as possible.
“One thing is I’m looking forward to being in a situation where I can actively be a part of the entire department. When you’re not in this position you’re either an investigator or a narcotics agent or a patrol officer, and you can’t see everything going on. This way I can,” Garnett said. “I can take suggestions of ways things can be run more efficiently to Sheriff Gladney, and I hope when I’m not here anymore that I can look back and say I did a good job.”