HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - For Captain Marshall Pack Jr. the mission is personal and simple.
“I’m going to make sure that we take care of the state of Mississippi,” said Pack. “That’s what we made a vow to do and that’s what we do everyday.”
That commitment doesn’t come without challenges though. Pack is the director of the Mississippi Highway Patrol’s SWAT team, a 26 member tactical force made up of 20 troopers and six agents from the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.
“We consider ourselves the elite of the elite,” said Pack.
The MHP SWAT team responds at the request of federal and local agencies, all over the state, when that agency may not be able to handle a certain situation on its own. With only two full-time members of the SWAT team, when it comes time to call the team into action, it’s a delicate balance of logistics, equipment and most importantly, manpower.
“With us it takes a whole lot of resources because most of our troopers, most of the operators on the S.W.A.T. team, are not full-time guys. They’re actually troopers that work the road,” said Pack.
Pack said straining resources forces other troopers to work extra counties and extra hours to be able to pick up the slack while the SWAT team is responding. With low manpower as it is, Pack said that creates a bigger issue.
“Anytime you take a man from a job or from patrolling a certain area he’s normal patrolling, now you’re putting other people at risk,” Pack said.
To get an idea of just how much the SWAT team is relied on in Mississippi, through a records request, WDAM went through the numbers and found calls have sharply increased in recent years.
According to the records, for the past fiscal year, which is July 2018 through June 2019, the SWAT team was called out 25 times. Seven of those were for armed standoffs.
One played out in Jefferson Davis County in September 2018, when a man wanted for aggravated assault barricaded himself inside a home for hours before surrendering. Those 25 call outs are an increase to the 15 calls the previous fiscal year. Fiscal years before that show less than 15.
Pack said there’s no way to gauge exactly what’s causing the increase, but notes more large scale violent crimes are happening.
“I think it’s a multitude of things, such as mental illness, domestic violence situations," Pack said. “We respond to a lot of different domestic violence situations that actually turned into an armed barricade or hostage rescue situation."
Pack said over the years, the sate has paid more attention to the needs of a SWAT response, allowing for new equipment and more money, but with increased calls, those needs increase as well.
“We could always use more manpower," Pack said. “We could always use more funds to give us more equipment to be able to better do our job.”
No matter what, Pack said that job will get done and troopers will cover the state at all times, but at any moment the scope of public safety could vary.