The recent rash of police shootings across the nation has prompted residents in one small Mississippi town to work to keep its police department safe.
Picayune can be described as a sleepy little city North of the Mississippi Gulf Coast with a population of just over ten thousand people.
“The officers sworn to protect and serve the community are now being protected by the citizens, ” said Chief Bryan Dawsey, of the Picayune Mississippi Police Department.
Dawsey is referring to the community-wide “Saving Police Lives” campaign now underway in Picayune. The campaign was started by Picayune businesswoman Tonya Cialona.
Cialona said in the wake of the dozens of police shootings in the country the people of Picayune wanted to do something to show the police who protect and serve their community how much they are appreciated for putting their lives on the line to keep their citizens safe.
Following the mass police shooting in Baton Rouge Louisiana in 2016 which left three officers dead and three others hospitalized in critical condition, Cialona said there was a rush to the Picayune Police Department by citizens who wanted to let their officers know they are valued.
She said, many residents brought all kinds of food and baked goods, cards and other tokens of appreciation. But Cialona said she recognized something with a more lasting impact was needed to say thank you to their local police officers. That’s when Cialona
had a conversation with the Police Chief and some of his officers to determine their needs.
Bullet proof vests were at the top of their discussion, she said, as she explained how that would provide more protection for the officers. The vests the officers were using at the time only protected them against bullets from a small caliber gun. But statistics show most of the weapons used to kill 64 law enforcement officers nationwide in 2016, were high-powered handguns or assault riffles . Cialona quickly learned steel plated active shooter vests capable of withstanding rounds from sniper fire would add to the protection of Picayune police officers.
She told the Pacific Tribune, ” Those steel plated vest offered extra protection to an officer’s torso with steel plates on both sides of the vests shielding more of their vital organs.”
That’s when Cialona gave birth to the “Saving Police Lives” campaign. She first opened a benefit account at First National Bank in Picayune so residents would have a place to donate to the cause.
To her surprise, she said, it seemed the entire community wanted to jump aboard . Church groups, organizations, businesses and individuals dug deep into their pockets or held fundraisers to make donations. Cialona also said, many women would even drop by her Main Street business and dump out their heavy purse change.
Just a month into the campaign, Cialona says, she went to the bank to make a deposit from a 5-K run when she was told by the bank manager the account had already exploded to a whopping six thousand dollars.
“We have an amazing community,” said Cialona. “People want to help and will if they see a need.” In less than 5 months the campaign had raised more than $19,000. With that, 36 active shooter vests were purchased for the police officers.
“It’s a real sense of security to have a vest like this,” said Sargent Brandon Penton. “It stays in my patrol car ready for me to suit up in, in a moments notice.”
Chief Dawsey can’t thank the people of his community enough. Cialona said safety and training equipment was purchased for the Police officers with funds left over from what was raised.
Cialona said the campaign was so successful she recently launched a new campaign for the Police Department. It’s the “Saving Police Lives Fit For Duty Campaign.”
The fit for duty campaign aims to raise funds to build and outfit a fitness center for the Picayune Police Department. “If your child is abducted you want the officers in route to be in shape,” said Cialona, who is owner of a fitness facility for woman in Picayune and understands the importance of staying fit.
Chief Dawsey says a community businessman has already anonymously donated $90,000 for the building which will be located on property next to the East side of the Police Station.
Cialona said estimates are it will cost about $38,000 to purchase the work-out equipment officers will use.
During a recent social event known as “The White Party” in Picayune the Fit For Duty campaign was the featured charity. There another anonymous donor pledged ten percent of that cost of the equipment. The goal is to have the fitness facility built and equipped before the end of this year.
Cialona said the patrol officers, dispatchers and administrators would have 24-hour access to the building which will include showers facilities and lockers rooms.
Donations can be made at any First National Bank Branch in and around Picayune, MS. Donations can also be dropped off at Cialona’s Gym ” Bodies By Tonya” at
111 North Main Street Picayune 39466. Or you can contact Cialona at 601-347-7548 .
Al Showers III is a veteran broadcast journalist with nearly 40-years in the TV news business.
Showers began his career writing for his campus newspaper at S.D. Bishop State College in Mobile Alabama. He continued his higher education at William Carey University in Gulfport, Mississippi majoring in Journalism and minoring in Public Relations.
Showers is the son of a career military man in the U.S. Air Force which allowed Al to grow up in several different Countries, U.S. Territories and U.S. States including Canada, Guam , Maine , Vermont ,Rapid City South Dakota, Oklahoma, Arkansas, South Carolina and Mississippi. He currently calls Bay St. Louis Mississippi home.
Showers is an Emmy Award Winning Newscast Producer and has produced hundreds of newscasts anchored by now ABC Good Morning America Anchor-Woman, Robin Roberts.
Al was also part of the news team to bring home the highest award given to a journalist, the prestigious Edward R.Marrow Award.
Al loves the outdoors, hunting, fishing , camping and gardening and often brags about his green thumb.