Hed: Tupelo council confirms Crocker as police chief

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

Tupelo interim Police Chief Jerry Crocker was officially given the top police department job Wednesday, getting City Council confirmation moments after being nominated by Mayor Jack Marshall.

Council members applauded the announced appointment, then endorsed it by an 8-0 vote during a recessed session Wednesday morning. Ward 6 Councilman Perry Thomas was absent.

"I want to thank you for the vote of confidence you gave me," Crocker told council members. "I will try to live up to that and lead our police department forward."

At the same time, Crocker and Marshall announced the hiring of William L. Gibson of Tupelo to serve as one of two deputy police chiefs in a reorganized police department.

Gibson was a longtime criminal investigator for the Internal Revenue Service and is currently serving as chief deputy sheriff in Clay County.

"What we were looking for was somebody that would supply instant credibility and integrity to our vice narcotics unit and Bill (Gibson) fills that bill totally," Marshall said. "We're extremely glad to have someone of Bill's caliber come on board."

The narcotics unit recently came under fire from the state auditor's office for failure to properly account for some funds and for misspending others. Individual narcotics officers have been ordered to pay back more than $14,000.

Crocker said the department is examining its role in the North Mississippi Narcotics Unit, a regional narcotics squad using officers from several municipalities and counties and headed by Tupelo officers. He did not rule out the possibility the city may pull out of the unit, an action strongly urged by Ward 2 Councilman Sims Reeves.

Department clash

Crocker, a former deputy chief, was named interim chief when Police Chief Billy White left the post in February. Then in a bizarre turn, Marshall hired a friend, chiropractor C.C. Privette, as "temporary" deputy chief to make unspecified changes in the department.

Technically Crocker's subordinate, Privette made numerous departmental decisions, some of which led to clashes with the interim chief.

Marshall said a day after he urged Crocker to show "a little more patience" with Privette, Crocker suspended the deputy chief.

"I was never more proud of Jerry than I was that day," Marshall told the council, saying Crocker's credibility with officers "went sky high" with that act.

"It showed Jerry indeed has the leadership ability and determination to lead that department."

Two prong operation

The new department will feature two distinct divisions - patrol and investigations - with each headed by a deputy chief. Gibson will head the investigations division and be paid $42,000 a year.

A patrol division chief has not been named, but Marshall said current patrol Capts. David Ledbetter and Jackie Clayton were among those being considered.

The investigations division would encompass the narcotics, detectives, administration, academy, crime lab and court units. The patrol division would contain the five existing patrol units plus crime prevention.

"It's gotten to the point where one person can't keep up with what's going on in the department," said Crocker, who noted the department has 125 full-time and part-time employees.

Gibson, 51, holds an accounting degree from Mississippi State University and served as an auditor for the U.S. Army Audit Agency and an accountant for a private certified public accounting agency before joining the IRS.

He served one year as a revenue agent in the examination division, then 20 years as a special agent in criminal investigations before retiring in 1994.

Crocker said he also intends to resurrect the Special Operations Group formed more than a year ago to concentrate on high-crime areas. Despite glowing reports early, the SOG unit was disbanded in April as ineffective, in part because it had been split up and assigned general patrol duties, Crocker said.

Officers in the reformed unit will work in tandem and wear standard police uniforms rather than the special jumpsuits worn by the previous SOG officers, Crocker said.

Some council members complained that the mayor had ignored his promise to keep them informed of key administrative actions by failing to tell them of Gibson's hiring, which was sealed a week ago.

Despite leaks that tipped council members of the action, Marshall said he and Crocker had agreed to keep the hiring under wraps until reporting to the council Wednesday.

While Crocker's appointment as a department head required confirmation by council, the filling of a lesser post does not.

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