Hattiesburg, Mississippi – After 36 years of service to the City of Hattiesburg with the Hattiesburg Police Department, including three as the City’s first female police chief, Peggy Sealy has announced her retirement for the end of January 2024.
“This role has been more than an honor,” said Sealy. “When my career began in the early 1980s, I fell in love with Hattiesburg and its residents. Being able to spend my entire career here and to serve in its top position has made me very proud. Even when you are assessing and promoting through the ranks, you never know if being chief is on the table. I’m grateful for those who have supported me and believed in me throughout this chapter of my career.”
A Passion for Serving Others Through Law Enforcement Began Early for Chief Sealy
Law enforcement was always in the cards for Sealy. Although her career began in 1988 as a meter maid in Downtown Hattiesburg, her passion for serving others through law enforcement began long before that. When she was in high school, she had an opportunity to serve as a Laurel Police Department Junior Explorer and got her first glimpse – front and center – of what it would take to be a police officer.
She stated, “I loved every bit of it, and I was able to get an honest look at what a career could look like.” In 1992, she chose to grow her role from meter maid to officer and attended the Hattiesburg Police Academy. With very few females taking on roles in the policing industry at the time, it wasn’t long after graduating and being on patrol that she took to learning the ropes from her superior – Captain Gloria Rawson.
“Gloria was a supervisor, mentor and friend. She helped me lay the groundwork for how I wanted my career to look,” said Sealy. “She taught me about the importance of having compassion for those we serve and for those we serve with, while also having a strong sense of integrity.”
She admits that although she is proud of a career that includes being the first female police chief for the City of Hattiesburg, it’s not something she dwells on. “It’s a part of my story, but I learned from Gloria to work hard, pay my dues and stay committed to the mission of what it means to be an officer. I have, and that is what I am most proud of. There is a strong acceptance rate of females serving as police officers across the country – now more than ever. While I may be the first female police chief, I know I won’t be the last.”
Banner Achievements for Chief Sealy are Plenty
During Sealy’s tenure, she has served in a majority of the divisions available for sworn personnel including patrol, special operations, criminal investigations, academy instruction, internal affairs, accreditation and administration. Across her career, she worked her way from sergeant to lieutenant and finally to captain. During Mayor Toby Barker’s administration, she led the department as assistant chief from 2017 – 2020 and was appointed as chief by Barker in late 2020.
“Chief Sealy’s positive influence has been felt throughout her career and specifically over the last seven years,” said Barker. “She helped modernize the Hattiesburg Police Department through her leadership during the transition into a new facility, advocacy for higher officer pay and cultivating a more relational, community-driven approach to policing. Her rank of ‘chief’ proved that any officer can come in, work hard, seize opportunities and truly make an impact. Her performance in a time of heightened scrutiny and accountability will be seen as a model for how law enforcement agencies can evolve to grow neighborhood support while making communities safer.”
Among many achievements, Sealy’s banner initiatives have included recruitment and retention strategies resulting in the largest pay increase for sworn personnel in a decade, as well as community policing through summer youth programming, bike patrol and neighborhood meetings. She also continued a departmental push for upgrades in necessary technology like the increased installation and use of NOLA cameras and more.
“Making sure our men and women have what they need to do the job has been critical for me in this role,” Sealy stated. “From cameras that help solve crimes faster to making sure vehicle outfits are up to date, I am proud of how far our department has come to be more technologically advanced.”
Another milestone in her career was helping lead the department’s move from Klondyke Street to its new (and original) home on James Street/Hall Avenue. The $30 million Public Safety Complex stands tall in East Hattiesburg with three stories and three buildings, including the historical Methodist Hospital. It is the first time in the department’s history that it has a building completely outfitted from top to bottom to fit its needs.
When the ribbon was cut on the facility in 2022, Sealy called it a full-circle moment. “Not many can say they are retiring from a physical building where they were also born.” In addition to being born in the old Methodist Hospital, she served the department in the 90s and 00s in many capacities when the hospital was retrofitted for HPD’s use.
Spearheaded by Assistant Chief Hardy Sims (Sealy’s academy classmate from 1992/1993) and spanning more than a decade of planning and construction, the Public Safety Complex houses offices and amenities for officers across all divisions, police administration, telecommunications (dispatch), records, a courtroom, court records and a community room that residents and organizations can use.
She added, “Now to have served as chief in the same space – as a rebuilt structure with a new purpose – has meant a lot. This space is historical, sacred and will always hold a place in my heart.”
Closing a Final Chapter
Thirty-six years in law enforcement is no small feat, and Sealy’s career speaks volumes for that.
She added, “This job isn’t easy. It has come with a lot of personal sacrifice and I’ve experienced some of our city’s hardest days while wearing this uniform. But, I know that I have fulfilled the calling in my life. While this chapter is closing, I can confidently and proudly say that I’ve spent every minute of it giving 100% to a City, its residents and a department that I love dearly.”
Sealy will continue to lead the department through the end of January. After, she plans to spend her days in retirement with her husband, retired Hattiesburg Police Officer Don Sealy, while making more time for family and traveling.
Over the next several weeks, Barker will work through the transition with the department’s current command staff and the Hattiesburg City Council to determine the next steps for leadership.