June 11, 2014 10:21:26 AM
Lowndes County Sheriff Mike Arledge believes being a law enforcement officer is more dangerous than ever before.
Arledge spoke to members of the Columbus Rotary Club at Lion Hills on Tuesday. Referencing a recent shooting in Nevada where two officers were shot and killed while eating lunch, Arledge said danger is ever-present.
"You think that the danger will be when you're getting ready to suit up to go out on a call or a search warrant, that's where the dangers are," he said. "And it is a danger. But you could be sitting down at a restaurant like these officers and somebody is against the government or against you. We have to prepare more and more for safety everyday."
Arledge then spoke about the March shooting when two local deputies were seriously injured. Lowndes County deputies Clint Sims and Larry Swearingen were each shot as they and fellow members of the department's Special Response Team conducted a welfare check on a New Hope home. As deputies approached the home, alleged shooter Kent Coscia fired an AK-47 through the front door, striking the two officers.
"This was a bad day for law enforcement in Lowndes County," Arledge said. "I can't remember any officers -- it's been a long time since any officers were shot in that manner in this area. We were very fortunate, in my opinion, that it wasn't worse."
Arledge said if not for the rigorous training that his deputies go through, the shooting could have been far more tragic.
"The good thing about it is, we had trained for this type of scenario weeks or months before that," he said. "But you know, when you train, you can't train for every little thing and every situation is a little bit different when you're dealing with this kind of thing. We had an ambulance on scene and if it had not been for some of the medics that were there, it could have been a lot worse."
The fact that Coscia surrendered also played a role in how the events unfolded, Arledge said.
"After the officers got shot, the perpetrator walked out, raised his gun up and surrendered," he said. "That part of it was over with. The part about trying to get the officers safe and get them some care was still ongoing. But if you back up, what if the guy had not surrendered and started shooting again, come out shooting? If you look at the scenario, you would never believe that the guy would come outside and give up, but he did. Had he not given up, with an AK-47 and the ammo that he had, we could have had a dozen officers shot and possibly killed. Sometimes there's just no way to train for that except just to try to train as much as you can and give the officers the type of equipment that they need."
Since his time in office, Arledge said it has been his main goal to provide every officer with a shotgun, rifle and Taser, as well as their standard-issue sidearm. In addition, Arledge said having a skilled Special Response Team is vital to the department.
"One of my big things was to get our SRT back strong," he said. "We've got an SRT team that I'm very proud of."
The department's SRT also trains with Oktibbeha and Clay county sheriff's departments in case a situation like the April shooting should happen again, he said.
In comparison to other counties, Arledge said his deputies respond to more calls. Last year, the sheriff's department responded to more than 17,000 calls. Oktibbeha County receives an average of 400 calls a month, Arledge said.
The department also makes 45 felony arrests each month, not including narcotics arrests, he said.
Arledge added that while his deputies are actively working to combat crime, the general population in Lowndes County are law abiding citizens. There are, however, a small number of repeat offenders, he said.
"There are a small percentage of people out there causing trouble and doing damage in your community," he said.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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