Steve Mullen: In defense of the Vicksburg Four

May 13, 2009

Steve Mullen - [email protected]


Much ado has been made of the behavior of the four Columbus police officers accused of Spring break-style behavior in Vicksburg National Military Park, while in that city for a training seminar. 


On a scale of one to 10, with one being "nothing happened" and 10 being "Seth Rogen in ''Superbad,''" it''s probably safe to say the needle tipped off the one, and didn''t get very close to the 10. But how high it went is anyone''s guess, and it''s not fair to speculate. 


We do know what a witness told The Dispatch: The occupants of a marked Columbus police cruiser were playing loud music, flashing their lights at passersby, and doing other odd things including riding in the car''s open trunk (??) and back-talking a park ranger who was called in to investigate. 


I''d agree that police officers should be held to the highest standards of behavior, especially when in a marked vehicle and out of town on the taxpayers'' dime. 


The Vicksburg Four don''t need my help, but I''d point out that it could be worse. Other cities, and police departments, have more serious issues. I found evidence of this on the all-knowing Internet: 


  • Montgomery County, Md.: "A Montgomery County police officer was arrested for drunk driving in a marked police car Friday night," The Associated Press reports. "Police say Corporal Fernando Martinez crashed his police cruiser into a concrete barrier ... When police arrived they smelled alcohol on the officer''s breath and arrested him for drunk driving after he failed a sobriety test." 


    (Authorities in our incident say no alcohol was involved, and no "criminal" acts were reported.) 


  • Glasgow, Scotland: "Eight police officers serving with Scotland''s largest force listed their official religion as Jedi in voluntary diversity forms, it has emerged," a news report says. "Strathclyde Police said the officers and two of its civilian staff claimed to follow the faith, which features in the ''Star Wars'' movies." 


    "The Force appears to be strong in Strathclyde Police with their Jedi police officers and staff," a local paper reported. "Far from living a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, some members of the noble Jedi order have now chosen Glasgow and its surrounding streets as their home." 


    (The religious affiliation of our Columbus officers has not been revealed.) 


  • Boston, Mass.: "A Boston police officer is being investigated for allegedly helping two gay porn stars cut through traffic to get to a nightclub," according to The AP. "Police said the officer, whose name has not been released, has been placed on desk duty for allegedly using his cruiser to escort a car from Logan International Airport to the Roxy nightclub last October. ... Boston police learned of the alleged escort after a photo of a police cruiser in one of Boston''s highway tunnels, along with comments about the trip, were posted on a blog."


    (The less said the better.) 


    See? Other cities have bigger problems than some loud music and trunk-riding. Here''s hoping lessons are learned, and we keep it at that. 




    Sometimes size matters 


    We seem to be entering the home stretch for a sportsplex -- if city and county leaders decide to choose from the three properties the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority plans to submit to them. 


    All involved should be congratulated for moving so swiftly, considering that the facility has been talked about for 10 years. 


    Rec officials say all three properties -- a 156-acre tract of land near the Columbus Riverwalk offered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; 50 acres near the Highway 82 Macon-Meridian exit; and 54 acres in the city''s Burns Bottom area -- are suitable for a sportsplex, after looking at flooding issues. A cost-analysis study is next, and then the rec board is expected to hand off the candidates to the City Council and Board of Supervisors, who will make the final decision (and figure out how to pay for the thing, the biggest challenge yet). 


    Watching the whole process unfold in Columbus brought me back to my own days playing youth soccer growing up in Clinton. This was 30 years ago, and Clinton already had the beginnings of a sportsplex in the works. 


    In those days there were maybe three or four soccer fields, and no baseball fields, in Clinton''s complex. I recall how it grew over time. By the time I was out of high school, several baseball fields had sprouted up, and my high school''s home field was there (they''ve since moved to a field on a brand new high school campus). 


    It''s known as Traceway Park, named for its close proximity to the Natchez Trace, which snakes through Clinton. The three-odd soccer fields of my youth are now part of a sprawling 160-acre complex that includes 11 soccer fields, eight baseball fields, six soccer fields, a walking track and a pavilion that groups can rent by the day. 


    Traceway plays host to the state, regional, and even national tournaments mentioned by local sportsplex supporters. 


    The Columbus site would host soccer, adult softball and football -- part of the plan is for youth baseball to remain at Propst Park. Still, decision makers should seriously consider the amount of acreage in each of the proposed sites. Which one offers the most opportunity for continued growth? Of the three, it seems to be the Corps property hands-down. Land near the other proposed sites might be "gettable" down the line, but at what cost is anyone''s guess (especially with an established park next door). 


    It''s just another of many variables for our leaders to consider -- but an important one, especially if one of the goals is to build an adequate showplace for out-of-town tournaments. To accomplish that, size matters. 


    Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.