Marksville has the largest municipal police force

Avoyelles' "Blue Line"


  {Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of a series featuring the law enforcement agencies in Avoyelles Parish. The series title is a reference to the “thin blue line” symbol used by law enforcement to commemorate fallen officers and the relationship between police and the communities they serve.}
   With 25 full-time police officers and team of part-time dispatchers, the City of Marksville has the largest municipal police force in Avoyelles Parish.
  The squad is led by Police Chief Elster Smith, who has served as the city’s appointed chief for three years. Other members of the administrative team are Assistant Chief Bryan Bernard and Chief of Detectives Eric Jacobs.
    The department has a budget of about $1.5 million and a fleet of nine patrol cars, a K-9 unit and five detective units. 
    The department used a state grant to purchase a police motorcycle in 2015.
    Marksville may be the only municipal force able to fully staff all shifts with full-time officers. Even so, Smith said he occasionally has to go out on calls during the night shift.
    “Our employees are dedicated to providing the best law enforcement possible in the city,” Smith said. “It is hard to hire good employees, but when we find them, we try to keep them on the force.”
   Employees with no law enforcement experience must attend the police academy to get training in several areas of law enforcement, including firearm training. When they return from the police academy, they receive additional training with an experience officer.
    Smith credits the City Council with providing the right equipment for the police officers to do their job. That equipment includes body cameras and bullet-proof vests.
   “We want our officers to feel safe when they are patrolling the streets of Marksville,” Smith said. “In the same breath, we want the community to feel safe when our officers answer calls or make traffic stops. The body cameras help us when someone complains about the police and how we answer a call.”
   There are two public schools in the municipality -- Marksville High School and Marksville Elementary School, which are located next to each other. The police also patrol the Nazarene Christian Academy near Avoyelles Hospital and the Head Start center on Scallan and Laurel streets.
   “We try to make sure officers are at and around the schools each morning and in the afternoon,” he continued. “The traffic alone can be troubling, so we want officers helping get the school buses and parents in vehicles to and from school as safely as possible.”
Special events
   The officers also help with football games when Marksville High plays at home and with special events such as the  Fourth of July parade, STEPScenla color run, Halloween festival on the courthouse square, haunted house at the old police station, the MHS Homecoming parade, Mardi Gras parade and Christmas parade.
    “There are other events around town that we send officers to help,” Smith added. “There have been times when officers are needed at the Avoyelles Parish Courthouse, for certain.”
During the Christmas season, the department gives away bicycles to children. Police officers work with the Street Department to collect used bikes throughout the year. The bikes are taken to the Raymond Laborde Correctional Center in Cottonport where they are repaired and returned to the city for the giveaway program at Christmas.
   The department also works with other law enforcement agencies when additional assistance is needed. 
   Traffic issues are more of a problem in Marksville than they are in the parish’s smaller municipalities.
   Marksville has more red lights than the rest of the parish combined. The flow of traffic is always a concern for MPD officers.
  “We have to be on the streets patrolling each day for the safety of the motorists in Marksville,” Smith said. “The traffic on Tunica Drive has been increasing. With Tunica now being a five-laned road, we need to be more diligent with our patrols.” 
   If the city continues to grow, the City Council may need to consider the possibility of adding more officers to the police force to accommodate that growth, Smith added.
   “I think we have an excellent department with great employees,” Smith continued. “They care about the Marksville community and the direction the city is going.”