By NEMS Daily Journal
Tupelo Deputy Police Chief Robert Hall did the right thing in resigning from the department on Friday, the day after his recertification was denied by the state Board of Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Training.
It was right for the city and for Hall personally, but that doesn’t make what transpired after Hall’s rehiring in March any less painful or unfortunate.
Police Chief Tony Carleton and other Hall supporters, including mayor Jack Reed Jr., were in a tough spot in arguing for Hall’s clearance as a fully functioning police officer when it came to the board’s criteria for recertification. His 2007 guilty plea to misdemeanor charges in connection with the release of a suspect in a hit-and-run case – which included an agreement to resign as the TPD’s deputy chief – made for an automatically skeptical panel, and the contention that Hall, who is black, had been the target of racist enemies within the department wasn’t enough to overcome the facts of his departure from the force.
But Carleton rehired Hall and Reed supported them with good and sincere intentions. Hall had been an exemplary officer for 25 years, his professionalism never questioned until the hit-and-run incident. Carleton, as he and Reed said many times, believed Hall would strengthen the department and thus the safety of the city’s citizens.
Equally important in the rehiring was Carleton’s strong sense, shared by Reed, that the city – and particularly the police department – needed to improve relations with the black community, and no police officer has ever been held in higher regard among Tupelo’s African-American citizens than Hall.
Nevertheless, the recertification was an apparently unanticipated stumbling block, and while the odds weren’t in Hall’s favor, officials were justified in taking the case to the state board. The time, expense and controversy of an appeal to Chancery Court would have been harder to justify, especially given the resounding 10-1 vote by the board on Thursday to deny Hall his recertification.
Hall’s resignation should by no means cause Carleton to retreat from his aggressive pursuit of a police department culture that is both more internally respectful and inclusive of minorities and that reaches out to minorities in the community in a more intentional way. Carleton’s leadership in that regard has already been exceptional, not only concerning the black community but among Hispanics as well.
The Tupelo Police Department must have the trust and confidence of all segments of the community in order to function effectively and accomplish what all citizens expect of it – establishing and maintaining a safe environment to live, work and play.