Desoto County News

Conversation with the new sheriff

Photo: Thomas Tuggle won the recent Republican primary election for DeSoto County Sheriff and with it wins the general election that has no Democratic opposition in November. Tuggle will take office in January. (Bob Bakken/

Retired Mississippi Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Thomas E. Tuggle II of Hernando claimed the Republican nomination for DeSoto County Sheriff in the August primary election over DeSoto County Supervisor Michael Lee. It was one of the most talked about county-level elections in years here in DeSoto County, with stopping crime being the main issue voters wanted both candidates to address.

Crime, and how the Sheriff’s Department can keep the county safe from crime, was among the questions brought up in a recent and exclusive one-on-one interview with

Tuggle talks about what the Sheriff’s Department will look like under his administration, how law enforcement is perceived by the public, how his department is going to work with other law enforcement agencies in the county, the importance of the immediate endorsement to him from retiring Sheriff Bill Rasco, the first budget he will work with, and the positive tone of the campaign from both candidates.  Here are his comments from that interview. 

Q. When you take over as DeSoto County Sheriff, what is your department going to look like?

We are going to be very, very proactive and highly visible, but most importantly, we’re going to be out and establishing relationships with the community. You will see us in the community and you will see us supporting all of our local agencies in a support role. Can we take the lead? Absolutely! But we’re going to come in and augment what they already have in place. I think that’s how you build relationships. You will see an atmosphere that is created to encourage officers to get out and work hard, but at the same time, establish meaningful relationships with the people and the public. 

Q. How do you address voter concerns about crime in DeSoto County? 

The biggest concern with the voters is violent crime. They want to know how we plan to keep them safe. Interacting with them and reassuring them that we’re going to, not only communicate with them, but we’re going to be very visible in their communities, as a way to be very visible in that relationship. I said it on the campaign trail. The number one crime fighting tool that law enforcement has at their disposal is public trust. A simple phone call or a simple meeting, and information that comes from that phone call or meeting has solved some of the toughest crimes in history.  These people won’t talk to us if they can’t trust us, so we’re going to establish that trust by getting out and letting them know that our job is to keep you safe and this is how we’re going to do it. We’re going to communicate with you and we want you to communicate with us. If there is a criminal element and there is a concern in your environment or community that you want us to know about, let us know. 

Q. How do you view the public’s perception of law enforcement, especially in light of the recent conviction of six officers in Rankin County on charges of beating and torturing two African-American men? 

In Mississippi, the perception and trust issue is not as prevalent or is not as great as in some other parts of the country. You take the West Coast or up north in some of those areas where the media or society has painted this picture that’s been very effective of us being the bad guys. But in Mississippi we’ve done a very good job of making sure the public knows that we are not the bad guys, that we are the good guys. You have some incidents that come in and have the public question that. 

The recent incidents in Rankin County with the six officers that went rogue and called themselves the “Goon Squad.” I knew a few of those officers and I know the sheriff down there. We have reached out to them and I will be down there in a couple of weeks teaching that department about ethics and leadership, team building and professionalism, and most important, accountability. If these cancer agents sprout up again, these guys will be able to eradicate that before it becomes too late. We’re bringing that down to Rankin County. We don’t have those issues here and it’s not a big issue in this state. We’ve done a very good job of getting out and having those connections with the community. Every now and then, the actions of a few will affect many. In this case, it has. 

Q. How important to your campaign success was the immediate endorsement of you by Sheriff Bill Rasco? 

When Sheriff Rasco came into office, law enforcement was still evolving in Mississippi. We still had this perception of being, ‘tobacco chewing, coverall wearing’ police officers and he has come in and brought up the level of professionalism to the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department that transcended the entire county and has spread across the entire state.  With me working at the Training Academy teaching professionalism and he’s bringing that type of professionalism to the county, it was like we were working in sync. To have his endorsement means that he really believed in me and he understood and knew what my capabilities were when it comes to bringing law enforcement communities together and also fighting crime. In fighting crime, I’m going to be consistent and we will be very aggressive.  

Q. Much of the talk in the campaign talked about keeping crime out of DeSoto County, especially spillover crime from Memphis. How do you plan to keep the criminal element from coming to the county from elsewhere? 

We’ve got crime that’s coming up from Greenville, Clarksdale, and the Delta. We’ve also had crime coming up from Panola and Tate counties.  Not only just crime coming out of Memphis but we’ve got crime coming in the county from other areas. If we do not work together and it’s all five municipalities along with the Sheriff’s Department, the criminal element would overrun us. We create a unified front where the element sees every agency in DeSoto County working together, it will create an area where they won’t feel comfortable. My studies of dealing with the criminal element show that they won’t go anywhere where they are uncomfortable.  We’re going to make sure that if they are coming to DeSoto County with anything other than peaceful means, we’re going to make it uncomfortable for them.  The criminal element doesn’t see black or white, Republican or Democrat, Christian or non-believer. All they see is opportunity and I’m going to work hard with these other agencies to eliminate those opportunities, so they go somewhere else.  

Q. Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite recently announced what he called Operation Close The Door, putting extra police resources near the city’s border with Memphis to stop spillover crime from Memphis. How can the Sheriff’s Department support what is going to be done in Southaven in “closing the door” on Memphis crime?

I commend the mayor and his police chief for an outstanding decision to work that. They are talking about these corridors that connect Memphis and Shelby County to Southaven. If these individuals come down to commit a crime, they’re not going to make it back to Memphis because they are going to patrol those corridors. I see us augmenting what they are going to do, assisting in that because we’re going to be the eyes and ears throughout the county. When we engage these individuals and they try to run they’re going to run right into Southaven and Southaven is going to have that door already closed. This just backs up what I said earlier about us working together as the only way to defeat this. This is going to take a collective effort for Operation Close The Door to work. They’re going to be able to work with us, they’re going to work with Olive Branch, Horn Lake, Hernando and Walls. All those agencies have got to work together, because if something happens in Hernando, carjacking, murder, homicide, whatever it is, and they’re trying to get back to Memphis, we’ve got to communicate with Southaven or Horn Lake, and let them know that they’re coming.  I see this working together relationship as being very effective.  

Q. Sheriff Rasco tried to get radar into his department’s squad cars to address traffic safety concerns in the county, but was not able to see that happen. Is that something you plan to take up again with legislators to allow vehicles to have radar at their disposal? 

It was me they called when this issue failed to even make it out of the legislative committee. It was the sheriff, our two senators here, and the sheriff of Rankin County. They all called and asked for some talking points to get this thing moving. I made the suggestion of population, focusing on counties of 140,000-plus. That is where traffic is a big issue and let’s make it where we have one guy traveling all around the county for traffic enforcement. If you go with a small, scaled-down approach, I felt very good that we’d get some traction. They took those talking points and they made it in committee. They had a pretty good discussion on it but it didn’t make it to a full vote. I’m going to continue working hard to get that done. Your safety is just as important as my safety but I can’t address those issues because if I don’t have the equipment to slow people down, then it puts us at a disadvantage.  

Q. You were able to hear supervisors discuss the Sheriff’s Department budget when that part of the county budget was being discussed. How did you view those discussions and is the Sheriff’s Department budget for the next fiscal year going to be something you can work with? 

I didn’t have any input in the budget but I listened and I was very impressed with the support that the Board of Supervisors gave the Sheriff’s Department. I had a chance to watch it firsthand for the first time and I think DeSoto County needs to be very proud that we have supervisors that are definitely concerned about public safety. It was a very cordial relationship and I look for that relationship to continue to grow. I’m here for them and it is obvious that they are there for the Sheriff’s Department. That is a great start for keeping the citizens of this county safe and I look forward to it.  

Q. How did you feel the tone of the campaign went between you and Michael Lee, especially since so many election campaigns in recent years have turned toxic and negative?

This election showed what happens when you take race out of a situation and focus on qualifications and the concerns of the voters. My hats off to my opponent. I know there were people trying to tell him that he needed to go negative but he had the courage to say no, that we were going to run this race and run it fair. I appreciate that because the biggest thing to me was that you have a lot of people out there who would love to do public service and represent their constituents, but they don’t want to do it because they don’t want to put their families through all of the negative press and the negative comments. I want the rest of the country to emulate what just happened here in this sheriff’s race. We had two qualified candidates. Both of them respected each other and it was something that I think the next generation can look at and say they did it right. My hats off to my opponent. He’s a great guy. This was not an adversarial race by any sense and he is not my adversary, he is my friend.  I’ll be there for him and I know he will do the same for me.