February 5, 2014 10:56:05 AM
Aldermen appointed Frank Nichols, a 22-year veteran of Starkville Police Department, as the city's police chief with a 6-1 vote Tuesday.
Nichols takes over immediately, replacing Interim Chief John Outlaw, who is expected to re-enter retirement. Nichols' salary was set at $73,500. Only Ward 3 Alderman David Little voted against the hire.
Aldermen picked Nichols, the only internal SPD candidate, over two other area law enforcement agents: former Lowndes County Narcotics Unit commander Bobby Grimes and Columbus Police Department Capt. Frederick Shelton.
"I can't say enough about the employees of SPD and the citizens of this community," Nichols said after his appointment. "They've all been wonderful. I look forward to serving them."
During his interview, Nichols laid out an ambitious plan for the city's police department. He called for the addition of 10 new officer positions within the next eight years and pay raises and adjustments for numerous positions, including dispatchers and animal control officers.
He also called for the establishment of four precinct substations within the community. SPD is in the process of establishing a precinct near the intersection of Long and Alfred Perkins streets to house its Community Oriented Police program. Nichols said he would like to use the facility as a substation and establish three others in the short-term future.
"If you look at the national average ... per 1,000 citizens, there should be 2.6 police officers. We are currently operating with 54 sworn officers. We cannot be arrogant enough to think we can continue operating with 54 officers," Nichols said during his interview. "We know pay raises do not keep officers, but they help. Starkville can compete with the best. I don't say that because I work here. I say that because it's true."
Many of the incoming chief's other objectives dealt with improving relations between SPD and Starkville residents. Nichols proposed organizing monthly meetings within each ward to discuss issues with residents, using social media as an outreach tool and establishing a citizen police academy modeled after other Mississippi municipalities' programs.
"As CEO of a police agency, I think it's imperative that all officers are familiar with the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, which are the vehicles that propel law," he said. "What gets CEOs and agencies in trouble more than anything is not being abreast of the Constitution. I often pose this question to my students: Who or what polices the police? The correct answer to that is the U.S. Constitution, more specifically the Bill of Rights. I believe in the basic premise that everyone should be treated fairly."
After the interview, he also lent his support for an internal candidate to assume the vacant assistant police chief's position. Nichols said SPD has competent commanders -- Capt. Chris Thomas, specifically -- who are ready to take over as his second in command.
"I think he fits the role," he said.
Aldermen previously drew flak over its advertising for the position and the resulting small candidate pool -- a fourth candidate withdrew from the search last week -- but board members acknowledged the trio's strengths and combined years of service to the Golden Triangle.
"Any one of these applicants could have run SPD," said Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard.
Nichols, a lifelong resident of Starkville, worked his way from patrolman to police chief after joining the force in 1992. He graduated from Starkville High School in 1987 and holds an associate's degree from East Mississippi Community College, a bachelor's degree from Mississippi State University and a master's degree from Troy University in Alabama.
Nichols also accrued an extensive military record after serving in both Gulf Wars. He was first deployed with the Navy on the USS Independence during the first Gulf War. A subsequent stint with the Mississippi Army National Guard also deployed him during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005.
In addition to his police duties, Nichols is an adjunct instructor with the state's police academy system, where he teaches Mississippi and constitutional law. He also taught criminal justice classes as an EMCC adjunct instructor.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch