- Associated Press - Monday, December 21, 2015

MCCOMB, Miss. (AP) - Pike County Sheriff Mark Shepherd is looking forward to his retirement, which is just around the corner following his 35-year career in law enforcement.

Shepherd, who did not seek re-election this year, will see his third and final term end Dec. 31. Summit Police Chief Kenny Cotton will take his place.

Shepherd began his career in law enforcement as an officer with the McComb Police Department in 1983. He quickly moved up the ladder and was promoted to sergeant, then lieutenant. He worked for McComb police for 21 years and become its SWAT team commander in 2003.

Shepherd was elected as Pike County sheriff in 2003, beginning the first of three terms as sheriff in 2004.

“There comes a time when you know it’s time to retire. Well, I believe that time is now,” he told the McComb Lions Club recently.

A graduate of McComb High School, Shepherd joked of another accomplishment unique to Pike County.

“The best thing is that I graduated from Miss Mattie’s reading class. That’s better than Harvard, as far as I’m concerned,” he quipped.

Shepherd said he has had a favorable relationship with the Pike County Board of Supervisors.

As sheriff, Shepherd oversees more than 60 employees. That number is up from what it was 12 years ago, the sheriff said. And he has done his best to take care of them, he said.

“We’ve gotten raises just about every year. There have been a few times no county workers got raises, but that’s been the exception. We’ve never exceeded the budget except for one year. That was Katrina. Since then the budget has gone up,” he said.

“I believe the department is in better shape than it was 12 years ago. That was one of my goals when I started the position. That’s what I believe I have done.”

Shepherd concluded from experience his assessment of people.

“There are three types of people. There are wolves, sheep and sheepdogs. I’m a sheepdog. And my three boys are sheepdogs. That’s just the way it is,” he said. “What we have to do is learn who is who. And if you are a sheepdogs, you need to stand up and take care of your people. Because the wolves are coming people. You have to be prepared to handle what’s coming up, or we’re going to be in trouble.”

Shepherd’s sons have followed in his footsteps, something he is proud of.

Their oldest son Clay works for the Secret Service. Shepherd said he is on security detail for Vice President Joe Biden. His second-oldest son J.T., is a deputy with the Lamar County sheriff’s department. His youngest, Jacob, is a medic with Triple A while attending Southwest Mississippi Community College.

Shepherd’s wife, too, is in the public service field. She has been an RN at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center for 34 years.

“I must have done something right. All my boys have gone into the same field as me. That’s how I’ve really gauged my success,” he said.

Shepherd is a firm believer in the open and concealed carry of firearms.

“There are 100 million handgun owners in the United States and 13 million concealed carry holders. Those are the numbers. I am a firm believer in concealed carry. Some people are not,” he said.

“If a wolf decided to come through that door and decide to do harm to us, how many people are prepared to take care of what needs to be taken care of?” he asked. “McComb, Pike County, we aren’t immune to bad things happening. They can happen anywhere. We have to be vigilant whether you are at Wal-Mart, Golden Corral or at home.”

Shepherd said things have changed since he started his law enforcement career - some good, some bad.

The advent of social media has been more of a hindrance to sheriff’s department investigations than anything, he said.

“It’s good in some ways, horrible in others. It really hurts sometimes in investigations, things that are better left alone, those things are put on social media, and that hurts us,” he said. “What’s funny today is that you can go to a wreck today at noon - so bad of a wreck, maybe a lot of property damage - but then Mrs. Jones will drive by and see it, all of sudden 12 people are dead. That’s what she sees,” he said. “Those kind of things then get to the media, and we start fielding calls from reporters, ‘We heard that 12 people just died, what’s the story? Well, usually it’s completely made-up. It taxes the investigators.”

Shepherd said victims of crimes sometimes end up blaming the sheriff’s department instead of the perpetrators.

“That’s something that’s hard for me to understand. We get the blame,” he said.

Shepherd said he is open to meeting with Cotton before the end of the year “to make it the best transition as possible,” he said.

Shepherd said after retirement he plans on traveling and enjoying time with friends and family.

The sheriff wasn’t only departing county official at the Lions Club meeting. Club member and outgoing Chancery Clerk Doug Touchstone also made brief remarks.

“I’ve been fortunate to serve the county for 16 years,” Lions Club member and outgoing Pike County Chancery Clerk Doug Touchstone said. “It’s been a great privilege and an honor to serve with Sheriff Shepherd. He’s been very professional, and has always made sure we’ve had security at the courthouse. He has done a great job,” he said.

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Information from: Enterprise-Journal, https://www.enterprise-journal.com

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