After a decade of service to Wiggins, Police Chief Matt Barnett has retired.
He leaves the department in the hands of Jeff Thomas, who previously served as deputy chief since 2008.
Barnett is satisfied with the legacy he is leaving behind.
“I always wanted to be more involved and make a difference,” he said.
Barnett believes in training officers for every possible situation and being prepared. Over the years, Barnett provided as many training opportunities to his officers as possible.
“I’ve always had the feeling…you have to train officers. Because one day, they’re going to take your job,” he said. “We’ve got some very good officers…very well trained.”
Nine years ago, Barnett was appointed to Mississippi’s Board on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Training, which oversees the standards for training and education for officers across the state.
He also worked hard to ensure his officers had the best equipment and resources available to their jobs.
“I feel like, for our size city, we are equipped as good as any department in the state,” he said.
Wiggins officers have some of the latest technology available to law enforcement including body cams and intelligent surveillance cameras to help solve crimes.
To meet his department’s needs, Barnett has left no stone unturned in search of funding.
He has applied and received hundreds of thousands in grants, which have provided equipment, technology, patrol cars, and renovated the police station.
Barnett said he has been lucky to have the support of city officials to apply for grants.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of good citizens and community members to work with,” Barnett said. “I think we’re very lucky in law enforcement to have the community support here.”
Barnett started his career in law enforcement in 1990 as a lieutenant with the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department.
After working with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, he was hired as Wiggins Police Chief.
Altogether, he has served more than 20 years in law enforcement.
Barnett said he has enjoyed his tenure as chief, but he knows the department will be in good hands.
“I’m going to miss the officers and the everyday people you deal with,” he said.
Over the years, he has seen his officers help people. Some have even paid for someone’s groceries.
“I have seen officers do acts of kindness, nowhere in their job description,” Barnett said. “I know a lot of focus gets put on the chief, but the officers who work here…they are the ones who really make the (department).”
Barnett said although he is retiring as police chief, he hopes to stay busy with his family and is considering getting into consulting.
“I’m sorry to see him go,” Mayor Joel Miles said. “(Barnett) was a great organizer and a great chief.”
In his estimate, Miles said Barnett has brought in around $1 million in grants to improve the police department.
Miles said although he will no longer be chief, he hopes Barnett will stay nearby.
Newly minted Police Chief Jeff Thomas hopes to continue what Barnett started by keeping standards high.
He will continue investing in the community and wants to raise the officer retention rate. He also wants to see the department state-accredited within the next three years.
Thomas said being selected as the new chief is humbling.
“It’s a huge honor,” Thomas said.