New troopers get first assignments

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Le’Shaun Darby of Jackson knew from the time he was 12 years oldthat he wanted to wear the uniform of a Mississippi Highway SafetyPatrolman. On Monday, he took another big step in the realizationof that dream.

Darby and 10 other recent Mississippi Law Enforcement Officer’sTraining Academy graduates gathered at Troop M headquarters inBrookhaven Monday for their first day of assignments. Darby, whowas elected president of his class of 69 graduating troopers, saidhe could see a marked difference in him and his classmates from thefirst day of school.

“It’s a big difference,” he said. “When we started, no one knewwhat was what, and then the 69 of us learned to work together asone unit.”

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Tylertown’s David Blackwell said he had always wanted to be atrooper as well. Through his previous law enforcement training, hehad his sights set on MHP because they were, in his opinion, thebest of the best.

“Everyone looks up to the Highway Patrol,” he said. “I justwanted to be one of the best.”

And the other new members of Troop M felt the same way. WhenMaster Sgt. Albert Johnson asked the group, “How does it feel to begraduated?” the group replied, “Great!” almost in unison.

With the great feeling come the dangers, Johnson told them.

“This is the second phase of your training, and it’s anuncontrolled environment,” he said. “Before now everything wascontrolled, but now you’ll be expected to get up on time and be atwork on time … It’s not going to be easy out here.”

Johnson went on to explain to the group they would each ridewith a Field Training Officer (FTO) who would show them the ropes,meanwhile grading their performance on a scale of one to sevenpoints, with one being the lowest and seven being the highest scorepossible.

Sgt. Rusty Boyd said each new trooper will ride with his primaryFTO for two weeks, then will move on two more FTOs for two weekseach before returning to work with the primary again.

“The FTO program was established back in the early 80s, and theyadopted it so they’d have a standardized way of evaluating each newtrooper in different areas,” he said.

The troopers are graded on things from knowledge and ability toappearance and use of force, Boyd said.

“Most start out on the lower end of the grading scale, and bythe end of the third phase they’re consistently above 4 in allcategories,” he said.

Johnson also stressed to the group the example they are expectedto set now that they are wearing the uniform of a MississippiHighway Patrolman.

“You live in a glass world now, and everyone is looking at you,”he told them. “They will listen to everything you say on a trafficstop, and when you go to Wal-Mart, little kids will be looking atyou. You’ll have to be able to justify everything you do, andthat’s what this training is about.”

It’s not only about the image, though, Johnson explained. It’salso about learning what it’s like to work the highways in the realworld.

“This isn’t the ideal situation you had at the trainingacademy,” he said. “Your chances of being hit by a car are greaterthan your chances of getting shot. Everyone doesn’t move over, andthey’re going by at 70-100 miles an hour, and they’ll blow your hatoff and shake your pants legs.”

To him, Blackwell said, the dangers are part of the job.

“You never know who you’re stopping,” he said. “It could beanyone from the lady at your church to someone who just killedsomeone in Florida. There’s always the danger of the unknown.”

Darby said while he is aware of the risks, he tries not to focuson them.

“I don’t think about that,” he said. “That’s the training fromthe academy. I accept the risks because this is what I wanted todo.”

Of the 11 new troopers, three will be assigned in Adams Countyafter their training phase, one each will be in Jefferson andLawrence Counties, and there will be two each in Pike, Walthall,and Wilkinson counties.

Boyd said the new assignments would also shuffle some of thecurrent county assignments of the current troopers, but that thereare now more troopers on the road for Troop M than there ever havebeen in the past.

“And just from talking to the instructors at the academy, I hearwe’ve got some really good guys in this group,” he said.

As president of his class, Darby agreed.

“The 11 guys they sent to Troop M? I couldn’t have picked abetter group myself,” he said.