Laurel Police Chief Tommy Cox has a clear vision for what his role in the Laurel Police Department should be. He believes in providing his staff with the resources that they need and letting them do what they do best. “My job is to set the tone and get out of their way,” he explained. “I have some phenomenal folks that work here and they do a phenomenal job. I just have to make sure that they have whatever they need.”
Cox is a 1996 graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi where he also started his career in law enforcement as a campus police officer that same year.
In February 1998, Cox began with the Laurel Police Department and has recently surpassed 25 years of service. He started on patrol in 1998 and by 2000 was promoted to detective. From there, he worked his way up the ranks to detective sergeant, a sergeant in the narcotics division, lieutenant, lieutenant shift commander, and captain. When his predecessor Chief Tyrone Stewart passed away in 2019, Cox was appointed by the mayor to serve as the city’s chief of police.
Since taking over the role in March 2019, he has placed a strong emphasis on community outreach and public relations for the department. “We do a lot of our own PR and a tremendous amount of public outreach,” he said. He explained that while the department has always had public outreach programs, he and his team have worked to make them more robust.
Most of the time when people encounter a police officer it is due to a negative experience such as getting pulled over for a traffic violation, making a report after being involved in an accident, or making a report after being the victim of a crime, or, of course, being arrested. However, it is important that citizens have the opportunity to see that police officers are members of the community as well. “Police are just regular people who have a job to do,” Cox explained. It is important for people in the community to “see police in normal settings being normal people,” he said. “It’s not just break glass when it’s time to go to work.” To that end, he has taken a big role in the community particularly in serving as a coach for local teams. “I coached ball at the Sportsplex for several years,” he said. “I coached baseball, soccer, and flag football.”
In addition to his own efforts as a member of the community, Cox also works with Captain Shannon Carraway, who serves as the department’s captain of public outreach.
Public Outreach efforts of the department include maintaining the department’s social media presence and organizing various events throughout the year.
The department hosts regular “Coffee with a Cop” events wherein officers go to restaurants or other businesses to make themselves available to the public in an enjoyable setting. In the past, officers have gone to Garcia’s Donuts, Hardees, and Hair World Barber Shop. These events allow citizens to speak with officers about anything that they are interested in and to get to know them as people outside of the negative events often associated with law enforcement.
The department also sponsors several Fill A Truck food drives throughout the year to collect nonperishable food items for the Good Samaritan Center and hosts a senior citizens initiative to provide support to individuals who may have limited assistance from family members. Currently, the initiative serves 12 local seniors who do not have family in the area. The police department provides support by calling and visiting each of them once a month, checking on them before and after severe weather such as Hurricane Ida, and taking them to receive their Covid-19 vaccination shots. “That’s really been a fulfilling deal,” Cox said.
Other outreach work includes participating in the DARE and Healthy Heroes programs in Laurel schools and making regular visits to schools and daycares. At Christmas, the department works with the Fraternal Order of Police to put together the annual Shop with a Cop program as well as the Salvation Army by ringing the bell at the red kettles and sponsoring Angel Tree children. They also host regular drug take back days and are available for speaking engagements.
The department’s largest outreach event is the National Night Out Against Crime that they host each October. The event features corndogs and drinks, games, entertainment, and free backpacks to local children. It is paid for through the police department’s annual calendar sale fundraiser. The event is completely free and open to the public.
“I think they have a good relationship with us,” Cox said of the citizens that his department serves, “Our goal is to be professional in every contact and every call.” He plans to continue to oversee the enforcement aspect of his department while maintaining a good relationship with the community. His motto: Leave it better than you found it.
Chief Cox and his wife, Michelle have two children and two grandchildren.