To serve and protect: Mississippi professor honored with lifetime achievement award
Published 10:39 pm Wednesday, November 15, 2023
The organization presented McElreath, a professor of criminal justice and legal studies and a former law enforcement officer, with the Pam Vance Lifetime Service Award during its annual meeting in October in Biloxi.
“While I feel the recognition is undeserved, I do hope my efforts have made some difference in the safety of our state and community,” McElreath said.
Wes Jennings, chair and professor of the UM Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies, disagreed with McElreath’s humility, saying he definitely deserves his recognition. The recipient has served on the Lafayette County-Oxford-University Crime Stoppers board for almost 20 years, including a stint as board chair.
“This award serves as much-deserved recognition of Dr. McElreath’s many years of service and contributions to the mission and vision of the Mississippi Crime Stoppers for aiding law enforcement to solve crimes and for his steadfast dedication to promoting the safety of all community members in Mississippi,” Jennings said.
McElreath began his journey to a law enforcement career following the death of his father, Bon Hughes McElreath, in 1972. A former FBI agent, the late McElreath was serving his second term as Lafayette County sheriff when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
“At 19, I found myself the oldest of three children, with a widowed mother, and had to find employment to help financially support our family,” McElreath said. “I approached Oxford Police Chief Owen Burrows and asked if he had any employment opportunities for which I might be qualified.”
Burrows initially told McElreath that he was too young to be a police officer but called back two months later with the news that, upon his request, the city had waived the age 21 requirement and approved his employment as a police officer.
For the next three years, McElreath worked as an OPD officer, primarily on the midnight shift; attended Ole Miss, where he majored in law enforcement; and enrolled in ROTC.
“It was a challenge at times balancing academics and employment, but much credit goes to the late Drs. Chester Quarles and Columbus Hopper,” he said. “Both went out of their way – not only for me, but for so many of us – to encourage us to complete our undergraduate education.”
McElreath’s career in law enforcement and corrections includes being an Oxford patrolman from 1972 to 1975, working as a park ranger in Missouri during a 1980 summer break from his teaching responsibilities at Southeast Missouri State University and working for the Forrest County Sheriff’s Department in 1983-85 while pursuing a doctorate at the University of Southern Mississippi.
He also completed U.S. Military Police School and served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, retiring as a colonel.
“From a Crime Stoppers perspective, I worked as a Crime Stoppers volunteer when I was on faculty at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, in the 1990s,” McElreath said. “Soon after returning to Mississippi in 2004, I was appointed by Gov. (Haley) Barbour to the Mississippi Crime Stoppers board, where I served as a board member and, later, board chair.”
Reflecting on his career, McElreath said he has enjoyed responding to calls for assistance and helping those in need.
“One of the memories that stands out was the search for a senior citizen suffering from dementia who had walked away from a senior care facility and had become disoriented,” he said. “We successfully located her and returned her safely.”
Although some calls were troubling or unpleasant, McElreath said he has enjoyed more positives than negatives over the past five decades.
“In general, working in both corrections and as an enforcement officer was an extremely rewarding experience,” he said. “I quickly realized compassion, fairness and unquestioned integrity – the values I feel were instilled in me by my parents – were essential elements in serving our communities.”