42-year-old James McGowan is the commander of Jackson Police Department Precinct Four. The precinct is one of four with a total area of 22 square miles, including Fondren, covering some 45,000 plus citizens. His total number of sworn personnel is 76.
McGowan’s command began in the spring of 2012 after the resignation of Wendall Watts, now Chief of Police for Central Mississippi Medical Center and a captain in the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department.
We sat down with Commander McGowan for a one on one to learn more about this veteran officer, hear of his successes and concerns for Fondren and find out why he loves Jackson, his job and this neighborhood.
What’s the backstory on James McGowan?
I grew up either wanting to be a police officer or firefighter. In 1992, I got letters on the same day from both to be hired on. I made the choice to go to the police academy because it was something I always wanted to do. I made it a point to keep my life clean and straight so I could accomplish this.
Why police over fire?
I had friends whose dads were police officers and I was always drawn to that. I like helping people. I’ve been a volunteer for the Boy Scouts for a number of years and coached tee ball and softball; anything to keep kids on the right path. The police department helps me to continue that.
Give us the resume, Commander…
November 8 starts my 21st year with The Jackson Police Department. I started as part of the Direct Action Response Team unit (DART). I then worked the narcotics field for 14 years and utilized canines as part of my efforts. I then moved to the traffic division where I was a motorcycle officer. I left to become a supervisor over narcotics and spent two years there to reorganize the division. I moved on to Traffic Supervisor afterward and worked events like Mal’s St. Paddy’s Parade and Zippity Doo Dah®. When Commander Watts left, I was approached for the position of Commander. I thought I’d be up for the challenge.
I’ve been through countless hours of training including the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s coursework for crystal methamphetamine lab identification and eradication. I attend every possible class for continuing education that I can.
How important is the everyday citizen in helping you to effectively do your job?
The people in our communities are there 24/7. We are only there so much. We need the community to let us know what they see. It may not be anything, but I have officers in that area. If a person is up to no good, an officer can check that out. That perpetrator may think twice.
If you see anything suspicious, no matter how small, call dispatch at 601-960-1234 or 911 if it’s an emergency. If you see someone looking in windows or vehicles, call 911. If it’s not normal, call. An officer is on the beat anyway. Let them check it out.
What are our biggest concerns in Fondren – and are they preventable?
Auto burglaries. And yes, half of them really are avoidable. Most are people leaving purses on seats or their GPS on a windshield. I drive a police car and every time I park, I take my GPS out. I don’t want someone to walk by and see an opportunity. A lot of the problem is with people leaving stuff in plain view. It makes the vehicle a prime target. Back in the day, we left keys in cars and doors unlocked. We didn’t worry. We try our best to get back to that, but until then, we need to take steps to protect ourselves as best as we can.
On any given day, you’ll have 10-12 officers patrolling Precinct 4. We went from 8 to 10 beats, automatically adding two extra officers. We have additional units we call 21 and 22 cars that we put in specific areas where there may be problems.
What are your biggest successes since you have been on the job?
One I have seen is the fact that the community is communicating with each other. In turn, they are communicating with me. When Watts left, people, for whatever reason, wouldn’t call on us or me specifically. Here recently, there has been an open dialogue with the community and us. There have been a lot of issues we didn’t know about, but we do now.
We have reenacted the DART unit. We have 9 officers at this precinct to target specific issues. Right now, those issues are auto burglary. Of course, we have holiday season coming up. We’ll see a lot of shopping activity. The DART unit has been advised that we will vigorously patrol the Fondren area around shops to suppress the potential for criminal activity.
There is a 15.1% reduction in crime since this time last year. We’re number one of all four precincts. My goal is to get it to an18% reduction. It’s a big goal but one we can accomplish. (McGowan reiterates the point again on the numbers): Crime is down from 15.1% last year.
All four precincts are down as a whole, but we have the highest reductions. Before I came here, it was good. It still is.
Are there any new measures coming from the City that we can talk about?
We’ve just beefed up the DART unit with a bunch of great people who are ready to roll. You’ve seen the Sky Cop?
We’re hoping for another Sky Cop by the end of the year or first of the year. That is a great, great deterrent. We can park it, with telescoping antennas and 3 cameras and we can watch from here or communications. It can run tags and video everything. Dispatch can tell us what’s going on as well as watching it here.
We mention speeding issues on Old Canton Road as a safety concern for runners, cyclists, schools and of course, motorists. We ask if Sky Cop could be used there.
Oh yes, definitely. We can also issue a directive patrol. Officers need to be seen and citizens need to see our blue lights. We may need to issue citations. This can be one of those continuing directive patrols. Any time officers are free, they can be out there. I run some, too, and ride bikes. I don’t want to work a wreck there.
311 is another great method. Call 311 to start a paper trail and we can issue directives to our officers to respond to problems.
Precinct Four is headquartered in Fondren (at 4436 North State Street in the Fondren Plaza shopping center). What do you like about Fondren?
I love the idea of shopping, eating and playing here. The old school (Duling School) is like a hub. People walk around, jog, and stroll along with their kids. And of course, there are the arts. There’s so much going on. It’s clearly the place to be and we want to keep it the safest place as well.
What do you want people to know about you they don’t know?
I live and breathe this police department. I always have. I put a lot of time and effort into what I have built up personally. I pride myself on putting people in jail that need to be in jail.
There has been some talk that maybe I don’t care. A lot is the fact people haven’t communicated with us. It’s a two-way street. I’m trying to be out there as much as I can. I pride myself as a good police officer. We need the community to help us like we help them. Call us if anything raises the hair on the back of that neck. Call us up. That’s what we’re there for. Continue to have faith in us.
I’m very familiar with precinct four but know I have a lot to learn. I love this area like any other. I was born and raised in Jackson. This will always be my home. I have a special place in my heart to make sure crime is kept as low as we can.
In late 2015, McGowan was promoted to District Commander. In early 2018, McGowan was shifted to juvenile crimes, special victims and missing persons.
In June 2018, McGowan announced intentions to retire from the Jackson Police Department, effective Friday, June 22, 2018, after 27 + years of service.