The Highway 6 sleeper lines alert a woman to move back towards the center of her lane. She tries, but overcorrects, clipping a neighboring vehicle in the process. The car receiving the blow smashes into the median and ejects its driver, killing her her instantly.
Oxford police arrive on the scene of the crime to discover that the woman was drunk driving. She is booked on a $50,000 bond and later convicted for aggravated DUI, Mississippi’s version of DUI manslaughter.
Oxford Police Department’s Lieutenant Hildon Sessums remembers the incident that took place in November 2015 it like it was yesterday. He felt there was only one way to respond to this situation.
“We have to be there for the victim’s family members and try to make sure they get justice,” Lieutenant Sessums said.
Sessums believes that bonding with victim’s families and helping them get through tough times is one of the most important parts of being a police officer. However, he spends far more time holding drunk drivers accountable.
Over his 12 year tenure with Oxford Police Department, the lieutenant has made close to 1,000 DUI arrests. He said there were 600 DUIs in Oxford in 2016 alone.
Sessums knows the culture of Oxford well. He believes DUIs are indicative of a larger problem within the Oxford community – alcohol abuse.
“Most of the time, when you have assaults, or domestic violence, or trespassing, there’s some sort of alcohol involved,” he said.
Sessums said alcohol is the community’s biggest problem, and even though Oxford now has Uber and many other ways to get home safely, there has not been a decrease in DUIs.
Sessums said the high concentration of bars, the many young adults, and widespread underage drinking are all contributors.
According to Lieutenant Sessums, Oxford’s young demographic and compact layout have an influence on the culture of the city’s law enforcement.
“For the most part, Oxford has the same kind of crimes as other cities, but it’s a different demographic,” Sessums said. “We deal with the same things (other Mississippi police departments do), just more because it’s a condensed city.”
The city’s metro narcotics unit also deals with drug offenses. The most common drugs they confiscate include Adderall, marijuana, Xanax and Lauritabs.
In addition to drugs and alcohol, Lieutenant Sessums said malicious mischief, known in many places as vandalism, is a somewhat prominent issue in Oxford.
“People get drunk on the Square, and when they’re walking home, they’ll break flower pots, mailboxes, whatever they can find,” Sessums said. “In October, we’ve seen them smash pumpkins.”
People who want to keep up with Oxford Police Department can follow them on Twitter @OxfordPolice for a virtual ride along, where they can read about arrests and often see funny pictures from the OPD.
“We keep people unidentifiable so it’s fine,” Sessums said. “Besides, when you leave your house and step into the public, that right to privacy is gone.”
Most of the Twitter account’s feedback has been positive. This pleases Sessums, because he was the one who originally pushed for the OPD to have a strong social media presence.
He believes it is important for the police to connect with the community because, most of the time, the first interaction you have with the police may be negative. This gives people the chance to connect with them other than in times of trouble.
University Police Department Sergeant Michael Hughes said the UPD and OPD work together for events like the Double Decker Arts Festival or on football game days. He said the UPD is helps the OPD, giving them an extra set of eyes and ears to regulate events more effectively.
UPD Officer Christopher Blair said the UPD and OPD do somewhat different work. “UPD really goes the extra mile to take care of students,” he said, “whereas OPD simply can’t do that because they don’t have the time.”
Despite the fact that each of the police officers work in Oxford, they all have slightly different jobs, and they all like something different about working as police officers.
Sergeant Hughes enjoys things like the tactical aspect of active shooter training. Officer Blair likes working with students. Lieutenant Sessums likes helping families of crime victims.