By NEMS Daily Journal
The hiring of former Tupelo Assistant Chief of Police Robert Hall for the position he held until resigning in 2007 – after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges rising from mishandling a DUI hit-and-run case – stirred substantial but measured controversy at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
Concerns and objections were freely expressed by three council members and one citizen. Following the meeting and a vote not to place the hiring immediately on the council’s agenda, Hall was still the deputy chief-designate, a position for which he is qualified.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. stood behind Chief of Police Tony Carleton’s decision to hire Hall, who is security chief for Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Mississippi at its Blue Springs assembly plant campus.
Hall’s first tenure marked the first time an African-American had risen to the department’s second-in-command post. The department was reorganized after his departure and there has been no deputy chief in the interim.
Responsibility clearly falls on Carleton and Hall to justify Hall’s new hiring with stellar performance of the same quality and consistency that marked Hall’s first Tupelo Police Department work prior to the incident that led to his departure.
Carleton made the hiring decision because he has known Hall for a long time, worked with him, and has seen his work as a police officer and administrator. Carleton is new to the chief’s position, but he is an experienced law enforcement leader, and his judgment should be given a chance to prove itself.
Hall’s experience, and the esteem in which he is held in the African-American community, should add both an informed view and credibility to the department’s enforcement among blacks generally and within predominantly African-American neighborhoods.
Many complaints from the black community alleging unfair enforcement and racial profiling by the integrated but majority-white police force have been part of the city’s race-relations record for too long.
Effective enforcement, of course, must be colorblind, and every citizen must be accorded the same level of protection and respect. Hall’s experience and stature should be used, as noted by Carleton and others, to build full confidence in the Tupelo Police Department, not by favoritism, but by fairness and evenhandedness.
Hall’s hiring is unconventional, and questions and concerns about it are understandable. But given the lack of sustained progress and confidence in policing in Tupelo among African-Americans – and Hall’s stellar record prior to his one significant mistake – the decision is justifiable. It’s up to Hall and Carleton to validate the decision.