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OPD chief talks about growth

Oxford Police Chief Joey East spoke on several topics Wednesday when he visited the Oxford Kiwanis Club, including Oxford’s growth, community policing and Square enforcement.

It wasn’t until the topic of gun control came up did he fluster a bit, knowing the subject is a touchy one that’s generally avoided in group discussions, especially when law enforcement is involved.

However, East addressed the question with a simple answer.

“Common sense,” he said. “I completely believe in our Second Amendment Rights and think people should own whatever gun they choose. But bringing an AR-15 into the grocery store just isn’t using common sense.”

East said he felt Mississippi’s gun control laws are working as intended.

“I think we have a good system in place right now,” he said.

Before addressing questions during the Kiwanis’ regular lunch meeting, East spent about 20 minutes talking Oxford’s growth and how OPD is trying to find a balance between community service and enforcing the law.

‘They’ll tell you that Oxford has 22,000 people here,” he said. “Well, I’m telling you that isn’t correct.”

According to the Mississippi Department of Transportation traffic counts, East said 15,000 motorists drive on Barnes Crossing in Tupelo each day.

“On West Jackson Avenue, there’re 23,000 cars,” he said. “And Tupelo has twice the number of police officers as OPD.”

Currently, OPD has 74 police officers.

East said he and his officers have been spending “quality time” with new University of Mississippi students in the last few days, explaining changes in the city’s code enforcement rules, which include not being able to park on the lawn and inside furniture not being allowed outside on porches, yards or carports.

“We walked 14th, 16th and 18th streets, reminded them about the laws by issuing a few tickets,” he said with a sheepish grin.

Another challenge is working with young officers, East said.

“The average age of our officers is 34 with four years experience,” he said. “Any veteran officer can tell you it takes at least five years to really mature as an officer.”

East said between football season and patrolling the Square, young officers can burn out quickly.

“They’re answering all types of calls during the day, from speeding to wrecks to domestic violence calls, and then dealing with the Square.”

East said he is trying to bump up his Square “flex-unit” to eight officers, up from the four currently whose main job is to patrol the Square during home football games. He said there are sometimes crowds of 10,000 people on a football weekend and four men aren’t enough to handle a large problem should one break out.

East said a stronger social media presence has helped the department connect with the community.

“With all we’re dealing with, I think we’re doing a good job,” he said. “We’ve gained the community’s trust and that’s the most important thing right now.”

Gone are the days, East said, where Oxford police officers drive around in cars with tinted windows, wearing dark glasses. Today, officers are becoming more visible, meeting with the public during regular “Meet the Police,” events around town and spending more time walking the streets of Oxford.

“We’re fortunate to be able to do that in Oxford,” he said. “Large cities like Memphis don’t have the time to do that. They’re responding to hundreds of calls a day and just have time to react.”