‘It was the right time to go’: Ridgeland police chief reflects on career after 33 years in law enforcement
RIDGELAND, Miss. (WLBT) - John Neal still doesn’t know what he’ll do after he leaves his law enforcement career behind next month.
After more than three decades in law enforcement, Neal announced Thursday that he would be retiring, stepping down as Ridgeland’s police chief.
“You first get into this line of work as a 23-year-old young kid,” Neal said. You really don’t know what you’re going to do with your career, and it’s hard to think at that point, 33 years down the road, where I might be.”
Neal started with the Ridgeland Police Department in 1989 and stayed with the same agency ever since.
He’s been there six months longer than longtime Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee, in fact.
Neal started as a patrol officer, getting promoted to numerous roles and ranks, including investigator and commander, and could be seen on television answering questions from reporters, too.
In that time, he’s seen law enforcement face challenges with transparency and scrutiny, and recruitment has suffered as a result.
Neal said his officers also now have to anticipate things the public may not realize.
When they stop teenagers, for example, Neal said there’s an expectation they could be armed.
“It’s going on everywhere. We face the challenges of getting the guns out of the hands of young people because they don’t, they don’t know how to settle differences, they don’t know how to mediate problems, to come to a peaceful resolution,” Neal said.
Now seven years into his position as the city’s top cop, Neal said it’s time to go and make room for others on his staff who may want their shot at being chief.
“I’m extremely blessed and grateful because it’s on my terms. You know, I didn’t have to go, but it was the right time to go,” Neal said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity. You know, obviously, when you do something that long, it’s appreciated that it’s noticed.”
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