Carlisle’s ‘tour of duty’ comes to end

Published 5:00 am Friday, May 30, 2008

WESSON – Police Chief Steve Carlisle said he doesn’t know whathe’ll do on Monday when he wakes up and doesn’t have to go in towork.

“It’s scary,” he said. “I’m always up at 5 or 6 a.m., and to nothave anywhere to go – to not have to go to work – that’s a scaryfeeling.”

Friday is Carlisle’s last day on a job he started in 1976 whenhe joined the Wesson Police Department when his father, WesleyCarlisle, retired as a town marshal.

Carlisle started his working career when he joined the MarineCorps at age 17 and did a tour in Vietnam before working with theMississippi Department of Corrections. But Wesson was where hecalled home.

He made chief just two years after he joined the force, and onlyleft for a short five years to serve as an investigator in theLincoln County Sheriff’s Department from 1989-1995.

Even into the last week, Carlisle wasn’t sure he actually wantedto quit. But, he said, as much as he’ll miss it, it’s been a longtour of duty.

“You wear a badge for so long, but like I tell my officers, thisbadge doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the people, so you haveto take it seriously,” he said. “Just to take it off and hand it tosomeone else, though, feels weird.”

There are other things he’ll miss too, Carlisle said, like thepolice department building on Highway 51 that he’s been in sinceday one.

“It’s been the same building for over 30 years,” he said with alaugh. “I started in December of 1976, but back then we only hadone room.”

And there are cases that still haunt him, he said. One of themwas a woman who was found dead at a rest stop while he was aninvestigator in Lincoln County in the early 1990s.

“There’s one case that bothers me worse than all the others,” hesaid. “I’ve seen a lot of wrecks, cuttings, shootings, but this onestays on my mind.”

He said a woman they called “Jane Doe” was found at a roadsidepark at a rest stop off Interstate 55 in Lincoln County just abovethe Pike County line. While they found her killer, he never gave upher identity.

“He knew who she was, but he didn’t tell,” Carlisle said. “Andsomebody’s missing a daughter somewhere.”

But there are happy things he’ll remember too, like the peoplehe was able to help.

One of those was a man who was beaten up and thrown out of acar, and then hit by another vehicle. Carlisle was able to keep theman, who was missing parts of his face, alive through CPR until theambulance arrived.

“It was several months, and then he came back to tell me thanksfor saving his life,” he said. “That stays with you.”

There were other ways Carlisle helped people as well. He saidoccasionally it’s surprising the things people are gratefulfor.

“You get thank you cards from people you’ve helped along theway, but one time I had a man I’d put in prison come back to thankme when he got out,” he said. “He came back after he’d served sixyears and thanked me because he’d gotten out and he was on theright road now. He said it changed his life.”

Carlisle said looking back, he just hopes he helped as manypeople as he could.

“I’ve wondered a lot where did I contribute to law enforcement,or to the people of Wesson,” he said. “I’ve had good times and bad,but all in all I’m happy with my career. I hope I helped, because Ihad a lot of people who helped me.”

But the hardest part of the job from day one, Carlisle said, wasmaking ends meet. When he started with Wesson, he made $525 a monthbefore taxes.

“Sticking to your chosen profession on limited pay was always achallenge,” he said. “And the learning to live with it. But it surehas been worth it.”

And Carlisle’s exemplary service has not gone unnoticed.

Earlier in the week, a member of Gov. Haley Barbour’s staffbrought him a certificate signed by the governor honoring hisservice and dedication through over 30 years.

Carlisle said though he’s ready to spend more time with hiswoodworking and oil painting, he’ll still more than likely be afamiliar face around the office.

“I’ll probably worry these folks to death,” he said,laughing.

And as deliberations continue over who his successor will be,Carlisle has held his cards close to his vest. He said however,that he would not be leaving if he didn’t have faith that the jobwould be done by someone who would serve Wesson in a way he’d beproud of.

“I want people to know this town has some of the finest officersin the state of Mississippi,” he said. “Most of my officers areprior military, some are still serving, and some are part time withother law enforcement agencies, which gives me an advantage becauseI always know what’s going on in Copiah and Lincoln Counties. Idon’t hire these people lightly.”

And, he said, whoever the new police chief is, he wants to passalong what a blessing it is to work in a place like Wesson.

“We’ve got low crime because of our citizens,” he said. “Youhear the term ‘community policing,’ and we’ve had that since I gothere back in the 70s. We’ve got some real fine people to work withhere in Wesson.”