BILOXI -- Danny Guice, the interim director of the state Department of Marine Resources, has issued a directive to his marine patrol officers to stop making traffic stops on land, with few exceptions.
He issued a written directive Feb. 12 and met with the officers earlier this week to reinforce that he means business.
He said if the practice doesn't stop, he will consider taking away the blue lights on their state-issue pickup trucks or perhaps work to change the state law that gives them "full police power and jurisdiction to enforce all laws of the State of Mississippi ".
"It's not a change in policy," Guice said. "It reinforces a directive sent out several years ago."
He said the 35 to 40 marine patrol officers don't have training and experience at making traffic stops, don't have a radio that communicates with police and sheriff's offices, and don't have radar.
"The public at large doesn't understand marine enforcement writing tickets," he said. "The Legislature gave them the authority, but not to use on regular basis."
He said the average marine patrol officer doesn't use the authority on a daily basis, "just one or two (officers)."
And he said his directive was meant to curb those occurrences, but he decided to talk to the whole group, "so everyone gets the message."
But the directive is coming at a time when the state agency is under scrutiny -- subject to state and federal investigations and audits. Even Guice has expressed confusion in navigating budgets and spending in the agency whose executive director was fired in January, but who maintains he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Guice said he thinks it is the only directive he has issued in writing since he took over the helm, but not the only one he's issued. He said the others were verbal.
He said he did not have the numbers of tickets issued, and the assistant attorney general assigned to the DMR said the Sun Herald would have to file a written public-records request before the agency would provide the number of tickets issued during any given period.
When asked why this directive now, Guice said, "I've heard from several people, people who I've run into, telling me stories."
But he said he doesn't keep up with who has been pulled over by his officers.
"I don't care," he said.
And in the past, he said, he has heard from cities about the DMR practice. Also, he said it is a pet peeve of his. He thinks the officers should stick to marine patrol. He said he has seen this happen with game wardens, Gaming Commission personnel and other law enforcement, working outside the focus of their mandate.
"The point being, that's not their job," he said. "We have limited funds.
"They need to be on the water, that's what they're tasked to do."
DUI is one of the exceptions, he said, but not necessarily reckless driving, which is too subjective.
The directive gives leeway to situations of "imminent life threat" or involving violent felons, the need to aid other law enforcement officers handling an emergency situation, and when a felony is committed in the presence of a marine patrol officer.
When requests come in from other law enforcement for assistance, the marine patrol officer must get approval to help, and even then, stay in a support role.
"An incident report will be submitted to the Chief of Law Enforcement on any actions taken or arrests made, which are outside an officer's primary scope of duty," the directive stated. "No officer will go into a pursuit mode who has any item attached to the rear of his vehicle trailers, trailers with boats on them, rental items, etc."
In an email, Guice told officers they were required to sign the directive and have it put in their files.
"If anyone wants to be a road patrolman, you may turn in your resignation and go to work for a County Sheriff's office or apply to the Highway Patrol to be (a) state Trooper," the email said. "There will be NO gray areas regarding this directive."
In an interview Thursday, he said, "Just because you have a blue light, doesn't mean you need to be patrolling the streets. And people don't understand, 'What is this marine enforcement guy doing pulling me over?' "
He suggested his officers can "flip their blue lights on" without taking further action.
"It has a chilling effect on people," he said, "a kind of a warning. It doesn't mean you have to pull them over. Let them see the blue lights."