Special Report: How the men and women in blue are performing on - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Special Report: How the men and women in blue are performing on the job

JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Whether they're officers, deputies or state troopers, their bosses say cops are a unique breed, bringing order to chaotic situations. In a few cases, they're also liabilities for their departments. 

We wanted to see how the men and women in blue are performing on the job. We made twenty public records requests to cities and counties within Madison, Rankin, Hinds, Warren and Pike counties, asking for officers suspended or terminated for violating departmental rules in the last year.  

Out of twenty departments, only seven gave us the records we requested. Many agencies denied our requests, saying the information we're requesting isn't public because it's considered personnel records under state law.  

Mississippi Department of Public Safety spokesperson Warren Strain said we'd need a lawyer to request the information about the state's highway patrol.

Jackson Police Department and the Hinds County Sheriff's Department didn't send anything back, even to deny the records request, which means they're possibly in violation of the state's Public Records Act. State and local agencies are given a seven-day window to respond to such requests in writing or in person.  

The Pike County Sheriff's Department, Magnolia Police Department and McComb Police Department also said no.

Why? The attorney who represents all three agencies said he didn't feel the public had a right to see the information. Attorney Wayne Dowdy also said that, even with names redacted, people living there would know which officers the department was referring to, and they didn't want to deal with potential fallout.  

Seven departments were fully transparent and opened up their books for us. One of those was the Vicksburg Police Department.  

"They're not going to be allowed to come here and break the policies we've sworn to uphold, and we're going to do that to the best of our ability all of the time," Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong said.  

Armstrong showed us that he suspended seven officers over the last twelve months, but adds that he doesn't believe that's a high number.  

"We're over 80 officers strong, and to have that few officers for infractions that weren't life-threatening, did not involve any violent misconduct on the part of the officer, I think that's pretty outstanding," Armstrong said.  

The Ridgeland Police Department indicated one officer was terminated for offensive or racial remarks, while another was suspended for violating the city's electronic mail policy.  

Byram's Police Department listed one civilian employee terminated for dishonesty and one officer who resigned for misconduct.  

The police chiefs from both Raymond and Canton said they had no suspensions or terminations from that period.  

In Rankin County, one detention officer was terminated because the person failed to report to work.  

Warren County's sheriff says two jail staff personnel were suspended for internal rules violations -- not performing to the best of their ability. A deputy there was also suspended for not following his supervisor's directives. Many of these suspensions ranged from three to fifteen days, depending on the violation.  ​

"I think when we allow even some of the smallest infractions to go unnoticed, I think that breeds other infractions, perhaps bigger infractions, to take place because you're not dealing with the small things," Armstrong said.  

That might surprise some members of the public because of how often bad cops make the airwaves nationwide.   Byram Police Chief Luke Thompson said that's because of a perception problem.  

"We allow one particular incident, one officer in one particular incident ultimately represents law enforcement as a whole," Thompson said.  

One other note: efforts were made (via mail and/or telephone) to contact police departments in Madison, Clinton, Brandon, Flowood, Pearl and Richland, as well as the Madison County Sheriff's Department. However, their lack of a follow-up response at the time of this report doesn't necessarily mean that information was purposely denied.  

You might think that, as a taxpayer, it's your right to see the information that seven agencies already provided, but only the Mississippi Legislature can truly change that.  

"I don't think personnel records should be public," Brandon city attorney and State Rep. Mark Baker said.   Baker is one of eight people who denied our records requests.  

"From the standpoint of a municipality producing those records, that would be a violation of state law," Baker said. "Depending on what the reason was, it could also involve other federal laws such as HIPAA or other federal laws that protect privacy."  

Baker did say he thought the information we were asking for could be obtained as a member of media talking to law enforcement. Not exactly something John Q. Citizen could do.  

"Having a transparency to our process is important to us, because it does build trust," Thompson said. "Hopefully it shows that we're not trying to cover anything up. We expect our officers every now and then to make mistakes."  

Armstrong agrees.  

"Speaking in general as you and I have done, I don't see a problem," Armstrong added. "I think the public needs to know that we hold our officers accountable to this department."  

Overall, we found that far fewer officers were actually suspended or terminated than one might think over the course of the last twelve months.

Most of the offenses did not include abuse of power or violent actions. However, less than two-thirds of agencies responded to us with information, meaning it's still a small sample of the overall picture in central Mississippi.

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