FOREST, MS (WLBT) - "When the mayor comes to me, tells me that I can't get to you but I can get to your men, I take that as a threat. Not only to the police officers, but to the citizens of the City of Forest," says Forest Police Chief Robert Roncali, who is turning in his badge on Friday.
Roncali was elected police chief 2 1/2 years ago, and he's been with the department for 25 years. He says he hand-picked the 14 officers in his force and trained them well.
He tells us from time to time, Forest Mayor Nancy Chambers gets a citizens complaint about mild disrespect from an officer, the complaints are never anything serious like brutality. Chief Roncali says the way she handles it crosses the line.
Chief Roncali says on more than one occasion, Mayor Chambers has come to the department to reprimand an officer without consulting with him first.
"We don't need interference from the mayor. We need her to work with us," he says.
Assistant Chief Tim Palmer is also stepping down Friday. So is investigator Kylie Culpepper. Altogether, 45 years of experience is walking out the door.
Chief Roncali says the last time he talked to Mayor Chambers was a week and a half ago, when he turned in his resignation letter. He says it was a civil exchange, but their once-friendly relationship eroded drastically in the past few months, and he's not sure why.
People we spoke to aren't taking the news well.
"I feel he was doing a good job, she should stay out of his business," says Miguel Lewis of Forest.
Eleanor Reed has known Chief Roncali for years.
"He really sees to everyone, he don't look over color, he just treats everyone the same," she says. "I wanted him to keep his job, but he said he couldn't take no more."
Chief Roncali wishes the best for the citizens of Forest.
"The only ones that don't pat us on the back or say you're doing a good job is the drug dealers, people we put in jail, and the mayor," he says.
Chief Roncali says crime rates are not the reason for the rift; crime of all kinds is very low in Forest.
Mayor Chambers has not returned our calls for comment. We're told she will appoint an interim chief, and a special election for a permanent chief will be held no sooner than 30 days and no later than 45 days after Chief Roncali's resignation is effective.
Chief Roncali plans to retire. Tim Palmer and Kylie Culpepper will seek other jobs in law enforcement.
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