Combining Forces Is Possible

It's a topic that's been discussed off and on for a while now in Stone County, but with all the recent talk about economic slow downs, efforts to combine the Wiggins Police Department and the Stone County Sheriff's Department may finally be happening.

"If it's going to enhance, so to speak, the quality of life in Stone County, and it will give us better law enforcement county-wide, then certainly I'd be for it," Wiggins Mayor Ferris O'Neal said.

"Right now, I am sure that Wiggins and Stone County like any other governmental agencies are experiencing budget crunches, so they're looking at ways to better utilize the citizens tax dollars," County Sheriff Mike Ballard said.

The plan would do away with the Wiggins Police Department and move the 12 officers currently working there into the Sheriff's Department. But can one department still provide residents in Wiggins with the same protection they have now?

"With the consolidation of services, you're talking a minimum of five to six officers on a shift seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and each one of those officers would be utilized in the city limits as well as the county, so if a major event occurs in the city of Wiggins, we have five to six officers that can respond versus two or three," Sheriff Ballard said.

One man who has been on the outside looking in, so to speak, is Wiggins Chief of Police Steve Compston.  He says he thinks the idea can work if planned properly. "We have to have our budget finalized by September the 15th, and I don't see how any negotiations done correctly could be worked out in this short time."

The Wiggins Board of Alderman and Stone County Supervisors have to discuss the idea, including who will pay for grants and other debts incurred by the Wiggins Police Department.