By William Moore
TUPELO – Alcorn County Sheriff-elect Ben Caldwell knows he has a task ahead of him restoring the public trust in the sheriff’s department.
“I know how it looks, but we have a lot of good employees,” Caldwell said. “My main focus is going to be transparency – letting the people know what we are doing and what is going on.”
Over the past 15 months, the county has been rocked by not only jail escapes, but also a corruption investigation that touched the jail, the sheriff’s office and other county officials. In late October, the Department of Corrections stepped in and removed 233 state prisoners from the Alcorn County Regional Correctional Facility.
While Caldwell will not be sworn in as sheriff until January, the supervisors appointed him jail administrator shortly after the Nov. 3 election.
“The most important thing right now is to get those inmates back in the regional jail and get the money flowing back so we can meet the bond payments,” Caldwell said. “Some of the concerns the state had were training related which won’t be hard to fix.
“I am working to get a well-trained staff hired and in place. We will insure that there is no contraband on site and start back with a clean slate.”
Caldwell has hired a new warden, who will start Dec. 1. He hopes to have the state inmates back in early 2016.
Caldwell, 36, is a Marine veteran with 11 years of experience with the Corinth Police and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. Since MBN covers nine counties in northeast Mississippi, Caldwell has a working relationship with many of the sheriff’s offices and police departments in the area.
As sheriff, he will oversee not only the sheriff’s office (with eight full-time patrol deputies and three investigators) but also the regional jail, the county jail, a juvenile detention center and a joint county-state inmate work center. He oversees about 100 employees.
“The SO is the least of my worries,” Caldwell said. “We have some great deputies.”
As he begins to shape the department, the public should begin to see changes on a number of levels. Caldwell plans to emphasize training and will stress respect.
“The SO doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the people,” Caldwell said. “I have expectations of employees and will hold them accountable. We want a department that the people of Alcorn County will be proud of.”
He also hopes to expand the department’s digital presence by using social media more.
“It is a way to get out information quickly and reach a wide audience,” Caldwell said.
Once the new warden is up and running, the sheriff-elect will be able to turn more of his focus to the sheriff’s office. He has met with all the deputies already and is working on a plan to make the transition as seamless as possible.
He hopes to look into the budget to see if there is any money to start providing duty gear and weapons to deputies. Currently, the county provides some uniforms and protective vests but the officers buy their own handgun, holster and belt.
“There are a lot of things I would like to do,” said Caldwell. “We will have to prioritize them to see what is the most important. You can’t try to do 10 things at one time. It just won’t work.”