TUPELO – Efforts by Mayor Jason Shelton and police leadership to energize a renewed sense of engagement between local residents and city law enforcement took center stage Monday night during a public forum dubbed an “All-America Conversation.”
“This is a continuation of our promise to be open and accountable and transparent in conducting the business of the city of Tupelo,” said Mayor Shelton during opening remarks Monday.
During the forum, Shelton, Police Chief Bart Aguirre and other leaders of the Tupelo Police Department answered written questions submitted by citizens attending the forum.
Issues of oversight, transparency and policing practices were posed from a fairly sparse crowd of the general public.
No question explicitly invoked the controversial shooting death of Antwun “Ronnie” Shumpert in June 2016. However, the demands of the protest movement that followed the shooting did surface at several points.
One early question asked whether a police advisory board with subpoena power would be created within the city of Tupelo.
This was a key request put forward last summer by protest leaders.
Shelton noted that while discussion of an advisory board composed of local citizens remains under discussion, it won’t have subpoena power.
“There’s no legal authority to create a quasi-judicial commission at the city level,” said Shelton, echoing statements he has made before. “The advisory board will be meaningful but will not have any judicial or subpoena authority over the police department.”
The City Council is scheduled to host a work session on Thursday to examine the details of a police advisory board proposal.
Body cameras came up during another question. Aguirre explained the department has body cameras, though they are not yet in use. He reported that writing a policy governing the use of such cameras was recently completed and that officers are being trained in the use of cameras.
“We have to make sure each officer knows and understands the policy,” Aguirre said.
Another question inquired as to how the police department handles allegations of officer misconduct.
TPD Maj. Jackie Clayton explained that complaints are generally directed to himself or to a captain within the patrol division.
He explained the department encourages complaints to be put into writing.
The chief of police or the deputy chief are informed of serious allegations, which typically trigger an internal affairs allegation.
“You may think I’m just throwing you a line, but we appreciate complaints,” Clayton said. “Complaints help us know where we might have problem.”
Other questions asked about efforts to recruit more minorities into the police force, crime prevention strategies and outreach efforts like the Police Athletic League.
TPD Maj. Anthony Hill recounted some of PAL’s engagement efforts. Other programs, like Plant a Seed and Real Men Stand up were highlighted as areas of partnership and collaboration between law enforcement and the local community.
Throughout the night, Shelton and police department leadership pledged themselves as devoted to a sense of partnership between citizens and law enforcement.
“We care about the kids, we care about this community,” said Deputy Chief Allan Gilbert. “We’re in this together. Each officer here, will put it on the line for you. They don’t ask what color you are, they don’t care where you’re from. If shots are fired they’re coming, they’re coming to help you.”