GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport's new police chief was officially sworn in Tuesday afternoon. The auditorium at Gulfport High, where the ceremony took place, was filled with at least 200 people. Among them were Leonard Papania's family, friends, co-workers and at least two former Gulfport police chiefs.
Chief Papania has been with the Gulfport Police Department for more than two decades. He most recently served as assistant chief. He takes over a department with a staff of more than 200. It's a big job, but Leonard Papania says he is ready.
"I just think today shows that if you work hard, there is opportunity," he told WLOX News in an interview moments after being sworn in.
The new chief comes from a large family, and most of them were in the audience for what was a very proud moment. We had a chance to chat with his mom, Estelle Papania about her son.
"He has always been a fun kind of a kid," she said proudly. "When he was very young, I used to think, 'Oh gosh, he will one day be mayor.' I did not think he would be police chief. But he was fascinated with police cars."
We also asked the new chief when he knew he wanted to be a policeman. His answer came as a bit of a surprise.
With a bit of a chuckle he said, "To be perfectly honest with you, years ago a friend and I were watching the TV show, Cops, and that is when it hit."
So, you could say it all started with a TV show.
Although he has been fascinated by police work for a long time, his career began when he worked in the garment manufacturing business on the coast, but then his life's direction turned.
"A friend of mine and I decided to join as reserve officers, and I tell you, that is when we really got the bug. After we saw what police work involves."
That "bug" that hit him more than 20 years ago, and led to the moment when he stood on stage, in front of his parents, as well as his wife and children, and took the oath of office.
Chief Papania said this is really the culmination of a dream for, as he put it, "I am just a guy from Gulfport that loves this city and I enjoy law enforcement."
The lifetime Gulfport resident graduated from Gulfport High. He has several siblings, including a brother who is the chaplain at the Louisiana State Prison at Angola.
One other note, the chief is a devout Catholic, who is a fourth generation member of the St. John Catholic Church in downtown Gulfport.
Also taking their oaths Tuesday were Deputy Chief Chris Loposser, Commander Rick Fisher, and Commander Ken Brown.