Greenwood’s new police chief is trying to go where possibly no man — and no woman — has ever gone before.
If Jody Bradley is able to pass at 71 the physical fitness test of becoming a certified police officer in Mississippi, he could become the oldest person to have ever done so.
“I’m going to set a new record,” Bradley said in response to those who might be skeptical of whether the septuagenarian former warden can handle the three-part test of physical strength and stamina. “Those folks don’t understand. I’ve never failed in an endeavor I’ve focused on.”
Even if he doesn’t pass, Mayor Carolyn McAdams has a backup plan to keep her unconventional hire in charge of the city’s Police Department.
She said she would create a new position in her administration — either commissioner of public safety or police department administrator — for Bradley.
Bradley is scheduled to begin work Monday heading up the 71-employee Police Department. He will be taking over for Ray Moore, who, though nine years Bradley’s junior, is retiring due to health problems.
Bradley has only about six months of previous law enforcement experience, and that was when he was just out of high school. The majority of his career has been spent working in corrections, including a 14-month stint in Greenwood as warden at Delta Correctional Facility, during the time it was being operated as a private prison.
Most recently, he was the warden at Wilkinson County Correctional Facility in Woodville, from which he retired in January of this year.
Under Mississippi law, any newly hired law enforcement officer, including a police chief, is required within one year to be certified by successfully completing the 12-week program offered at one of the state’s law enforcement training academies.
In addition to classes on law and basic police skills, including firearms training, the recruits have to pass at the end of the program a physical fitness test, which is graded based on age and gender. For Bradley, that means completing an agility run within 20 minutes, 5 seconds; doing 26 pushups within 2 minutes; and running 1.5 miles within 16:30.
Bradley said he is not daunted by the challenge.
“I’ve been doing exercises every morning for three or four years,” he said.
He also has some time to get into better shape. He plans to attend the academy that begins in May at Mississippi Delta Community College, one of six satellite programs in addition to the state-sponsored Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers’ Training Academy in Pearl.
“I think this old dude is going to drop 20 pounds as he gets ready for it,” Bradley said.
Amy Vanderford, director of the Law Enforcement Training Academy at MDCC, said in her 17 years at the academy the oldest recruit to pass the physical fitness requirement was 60. She doesn’t recall anyone over 64 ever attempting it before.
At Pearl, the oldest to ever graduate was 62 in the 22 years that Thomas Tuggle, the academy’s director, has worked there.
Although the final fitness test requires 70% proficiency to pass, both Vanderford and Tuggle said the bigger obstacle is the 50% proficiency required before the recruit is allowed to enroll in the academy.
“If they haven’t been working out and conditioning their bodies to do that, it’s a struggle,” Vanderford said.
“We ask that they start way before time. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.”
If the recruits clear the pre-enrollment requirement, said Vanderford, the conditioning classes given at the academy usually “whip them into shape” to pass the end-of-program fitness test.
McAdams said when she recommended Bradley’s hire to the City Council, she and Bradley were both aware of the requirements he would face to become certified as a law enforcement officer.
“He’s done his homework,” McAdams said of Bradley, with whom she previously worked at Delta Correctional Facility. “He knows what kind of challenge that is.”
If he can’t get certified, the mayor said, Bradley will be given an administrative title and asked to oversee the police department in the same way that city managers oversee municipal operations in some locales.
As a police commissioner, Bradley would not be allowed to give direct orders to officers. He would instead have to work through an assistant chief or a major, McAdams said. She does not believe there would be much of a downside to such an arrangement, should it become necessary.
She said her decision to pick a chief from outside of the Police Department for the first time in her decade in office is designed to raise morale, improve the hiring and retention of officers, and address a negative public image.
“The perception right now of the Police Department is not good from what I hear in my office on a daily basis and what I hear from our own officers,” she said.
Such a turnaround might be as difficult for Bradley as the physical fitness test. As for the latter, Vanderford, the director of the police academy at MDCC, is not ruling out Bradley’s chances.
“You know, he might surprise us all,” she said. “If he does, kudos to him.”
•Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or email@example.com.