Significant Service: Mississippi Highway Patrol Director Chris Gillard is building a better future
With each generation, there's an opportunity to build on the previous generation's advancements, said Alcorn State University alumnus and Assistant Commissioner of Public Safety/Director of Mississippi Highway Patrol Colonel Chris Gillard ’93.
For Gillard, working in law enforcement wasn't a career choice; it was a calling. In fact, he was looking forward to joining the ranks of the FBI or the Secret Service after being one of two graduates of Alcorn’s new criminal justice program. And then, the federal government implemented a hiring freeze.
“I was at a crossroads and didn’t know what my next move would be,” Gillard said. ‘What are you going to do after graduation?’ questioned Ms. Edna Green, his criminal justice instructor.
“She told me that the Mississippi Highway Patrol was hiring and encouraged me to apply,” Gillard said, acknowledging, he did submit an application. “Ms. Green believed in and inspired me. I did not want to let her down.”
Gillard was accepted to patrol school, but suffered an injury and was medically discharged. “MHP training was unbelievable and the toughest training I’ve ever experienced. It was tougher than football two-a-day practices at Alcorn,” he said.
As fate would have it, five months later, MHP conducted another cadet class. Gillard was accepted and mastered the training to become a state trooper.
When reflecting on his career, Colonel Gillard remembers his family guidance about being significant verses being successful. “I was taught at an early age that being significant is to build value in others and the drive to be successful only focuses on building value in one’s self. I’m all about building value in others and believe, if a person is significant, success will follow.”
Colonel Gillard is quick to dismiss his appointment as only the third African-American to serve as chief of MHP since its formation in 1938 as significant. Instead, he's working with his leadership to eliminate barriers and implement strategies to foster a better future.
“It’s my desire to create a legacy that permeates all demographic strata,” Colonel Gillard explained. “My objective is to develop a sense of accountability and focus on the limitless achievements that may be acquired through teamwork; standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all of the men and women of our agency to accomplish common goals.”
Colonel Gillard moved into his new office, which is located on the top floor of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) Headquarters in Jackson, Feb. 1. Four months later, visitors to his office will quickly notice unpacked boxes, possessing evidence of his level of responsibility and a hectic schedule.
On Feb. 20, Colonel Gillard faced one of the most tragic situations in MHP's history — a standoff in Tishomingo County, in which a male suspect held a 10-year-old girl hostage. The Department of Public Safety’s Special Weapons and Tactic (SWAT) teams from MHP and Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics (MBN) responded to the standoff. The incident ended with MBN Agent Lee Tartt becoming the 33 DPS employee to be killed in the line of duty and three state troopers were seriously wounded.
In the immediate aftermath, Colonel Gillard and his management team traveled to northeast Mississippi to check on his officers and to show full support to all officers involved — wounded or not — all were affected.
“It is important that we as leaders are available to offer support and handle the needs of all involved, including their family members,” Colonel Gillard said.
Early in his career, the colonel served as a MHP recruiter, led his district in drug arrest and was recognized for arresting more than 100 drunk drivers in a year. He also recorded one of the largest crystal meth seizures in MHP’s history.
Colonel Gillard has served in many capacities during his 23 years at MHP. He has held positions as the director of training, executive officer to Public Safety Commissioner George Phillips, liaison to the office of Homeland Security, DPS training coordinator, patrol schools team leader, driving instructor, firearms instructor and tactical communications instructor. He has also worked in several specialty units, including Executive Security (Governor and Lt. Governor), Drug Trafficking Interdiction Unit and as the Trooper Association board representative.
Colonel Gillard has been acknowledged as the Outstanding Trooper of the Year and has received several accommodations for outstanding job performance.
Colonel Gillard is committed to laying the groundwork to build a better future for MHP. He says immediate plans are underway to reclassify some positions to provide competitive compensation for current employees and to attract new employees. He would like to see female applications for patrol school increase and more women state troopers. His goals include fully staffing MHP, increasing the workforce from 475 to the allotted 650 under state law. Plans are also on the drawing board to build a new headquarters complex that will bring most of the 13 agencies of DPS under one roof.
This Brave Alcornite credits his achievements in life to his faith in God, his family and his academic experience at Alcorn. “I tell young people who are looking for a college to attend Alcorn. Alcorn will do more than just prepare you for a career. Alcorn will prepare you for life.”
Colonel Gillard and his wife Karla reside in Madison, Mississippi and are the proud parents of one daughter, Christyl.