The Clarksdale Board of Mayor and Commissioners approved the promotion of Fernando Harris to assistant police chief and the hiring of four new officers during a special meeting held Friday at city hall.
Harris, a 1986 Clarksdale High School graduate, has been in law enforcement since 1991, worked for the department for several years and has been back as a consultant since the beginning of December.
“Some of my plans starting out as a consultant are getting the citizens back behind the police department and get the police department being the police again,” he said. “This is my hometown. It was a privilege to come back. When you see things, you want to make a change. You want to make a difference. Clarksdale is my home.”
Harris’ promotion was approved by a 3-1 vote.
Commissioners Bo Plunk, Ken Murphey and Willie Turner, who attended the meeting via speaker phone, all supported naming Harris assistant chief. Commissioner Ed Seals opposed.
“As I said some time ago, I believe in hiring from within. If there is an applicant who has dedicated numerous years of service with the city and who is qualified for the position, I feel that he/she ought to be given that opportunity,” Seals said after the meeting. “Promoting from within the ranks may enhance the morale of the officers and may improve their performance.”
The hiring of four individuals means there are now 38 officers in the Clarksdale Police Department. There were 34 officers in the department before Friday, but police chief Sandra Williams would like even more officers on the streets.
“Considering all the things that are going on in the community, I’ve been fortunate for the mayor and board of commissioners to not put constraints on how many I can hire just right now,” she said. “So we are looking for even more people. It’s been posted. The information is out there. We’re looking for people to apply.”
Williams said she hopes to have at least 42 officers in the police department.
George Sultani, a 2011 Lee Academy graduate, has two years of law enforcement experience with the Bolivar County Sheriff’s Office and is one of the new officers.
“This is my hometown and I just wanted to come home and protect and serve my community,” he said.
Kenneth Davis is another new officer and has two years of law enforcement experience and comes from the Columbus Police Department. He followed his fiancée, Miranda Clark, to Clarksdale where she was employed.
“I wanted to come to Clarksdale to start a new career to help the community and be part of the community,” Davis said.
Patrick Williams is another new officer and has one year in law enforcement with Coahoma Community College.
“The reason why I wanted to join the Clarksdale Police Department is because for the things that was going on. I wanted to be a part of making a change,” he said. “There was just a whole lot of stuff going on in the neighborhoods and I wanted to get in the neighborhoods and be a part of the community.”
William Leavy is another new officer and comes from the Charleston Police Department and has one year of law enforcement experience.
“The reason I came to Clarksdale is because I think it’s a great place to work,” he said. “There’s a lot of crime going on. I think I can help solve most of those crimes.”
Chief Williams took her position in 2017 and said this is the most officers she has been able to hire at one time.
“This fits into it in a way that we’re constantly bringing the numbers up with the police department,” she said. “We have certified officers that are coming in that are interested in coming in to help serve and protect the citizens. It’s always good when you can find certified officers. We’ve just been lucky to grab these four people at one time.”
Chief Williams said she has given every officer at the police department an extra assignment to recruit prospective employees.
“The word is out there by word of mouth and through the media,” she said. “They’ve done an outstanding job with spreading that information out there and we were lucky enough to get four at one time.”
Mayor Chuck Espy spoke to the four new officers after they were sworn in on Friday.
“We take these ceremonies very seriously,” Espy said. “We want you guys to know that, ultimately, you answer to the citizens of Clarksdale. This board is governed by four board members and the mayor and you answer to us as well. We’re here to make sure you do your job, but utmost what we would like to see is uphold the citizens of Clarksdale — to protect and to serve at all costs.”
Chief Williams is ready to hit the ground running.
“They’re ready to hit the streets,” she said. “They have their assignments. From this point forward, we’re just going to keep pushing until we get to our goals.
“I would like to say thanks to all them for having interest in the Clarksdale Police Department and welcome aboard,” Williams said.