TUPELO – The city must appeal the denial of its deputy police chief’s certification – and it must win – if Robert Hall is to keep his job as currently defined.
State law requires law enforcement officers to be certified by the Board of Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Training within two years of holding that position. The certificate proves that all training and policy requirements have been met.
Without it, a person has no arrest powers, and agencies have no right to pay them as law enforcement officers.
Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton originally had said Hall’s position was administrative in nature, not law enforcement, which is why he didn’t seek certification when he rehired him in March.
Normally, agencies must apply for state certification within 30 days of hiring or moving a person to a law enforcement position.
Under pressure from the City Council, though, Carleton finally sought Hall’s certification from the standards board. Its office denied that request over the weekend.
Board Director Robert Davis declined to say why Hall’s application was denied because Tupelo hadn’t yet received official notification of the decision. That letter was sent Tuesday and should arrive sometime this week.
Davis did, however, orally inform Tupelo of his decision and the reason or reasons behind it, he said.
Carleton also declined to discuss the matter until having the letter in hand.
In general, though, Davis said his staff denies certificate requests if an officer’s conduct or actions violate the code of ethics or diminishes that officer’s public trust and competency.
A certificate also is usually denied when an officer is convicted of a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude, which the standards board defines as any conduct “contrary to justice, honesty, honor, modesty or good morals that would tend to disrupt or diminish or otherwise jeopardize public trust and fidelity in law enforcement.”
Hall’s denial could have stemmed from his March 2007 guilty pleas in the Lee County Circuit Court to two misdemeanors: accessory after the fact and obstruction of justice by information in connection with his releasing a hit-and-run suspect one year prior.
Hall, who was deputy chief at the time of accident in 2006, resigned from the police force just before entering his pleas. When he did, he relinquished his state law enforcement certification.
Until that incident, Hall had been highly regarded during his 25 years with the department.
The four-page application to reclaim that certification specifically asks about past crimes, notably:
• Have you ever been arrested or charged with a crime?
• Have you ever been found guilty or pled guilty or no contest to a crime?
• Have you ever: (a) been suspended for any reason from any employment; (b) been terminated from any employment; (c) resigned to prevent termination from any employment; (d) resigned prior to, during or at the conclusion of any such investigation into your activities?
• Have you ever had a certificate, license or privilege removed, revoked, suspended or voluntarily relinquished the same under state, federal or other laws?
The application does note, however, that “a ‘yes’ answer to any of these questions does not automatically bar anyone from obtaining certification.”
Carleton said he will appeal the office’s decision to the full 11-member board. It next meets Sept. 9 in Jackson. Hall’s supporters will have a chance to present evidence and call witnesses at the hearing, which could last several hours.
If the board also rejects the request, Hall and the city can appeal to the Lee County Chancery Court.
But is certification really necessary for Hall to keep his job?
Carleton’s earlier stance was no, since Hall’s duties are administrative. Tupelo’s Assistant Human Resources Director Contanna Purnell also described that position as administrative.
The standards board has no opinion on it. It defines the roles only of a full- and part-time law-enforcement officer, law-enforcement trainee and police chief. But it doesn’t define the responsibilities of a deputy chief. That’s up to each city to define for itself, Davis said.
“The hiring agency determines what each person’s job is, and it depends on the duties that they’re given,” Davis said. “If you are a law enforcement officer, though, you would need that certification.”
According to Tupelo’s written description for deputy chief, administration accounts for only part of the job. Whoever holds the position, the document states, also supervises all division commanders, acts as commanding officer for the police department in the chief’s absence and “protects the life and property of citizens through coordinated and direct law enforcement activity.”
It also states the deputy chief must meet all the requirements of a police officer, which by law includes certification.
And because Hall would act as commanding officer in Carleton’s absence, he would fall into the standard board’s definition of chief – even if only temporarily.
From the board’s policy and procedures manual: “The officer in charge of municipal law enforcement officers, regardless of title, is acting as the Chief of Police.”
Finally, according to Davis, because Tupelo now has applied for Hall’s certification, it signals to the standards board that the job includes law enforcement duties. In that case, Hall needs state approval.
If he fails to obtain his certification through the appeals process, state law prohibits the city from paying him in his current capacity. The city apparently could circumvent that law by stripping the job description of its law enforcement responsibilities.
But it’s unclear the council will do so. While its members have no administrative authority, they do control the municipal purse strings. Some members already have threatened to slash the deputy chief’s salary in response to the certification flap.
City officials currently are crafting Tupelo’s fiscal year 2011 budget, which must be adopted by Sept. 15 and takes effect Oct. 1.
Most council members hope the certification issue gets resolved before that time. But it doesn’t mean they’ll wait silently. Some said they’ll raise questions during a budget meeting Thursday.
“We need to discuss what our options are,” said Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell. “I don’t know if it’s strip salary, put on leave, demote or whatever. But as leaders of the city, we have an obligation to discuss those options and to discuss them with the citizens.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or email@example.com.
The Mississippi Board on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Training defines four positions, but not that of deputy police chief.
• Chief of Police – The chief law enforcement officer of the municipality, who shall have control and supervision of all police officers employed by the municipality. The officer in charge of municipal law enforcement officers, regardless of title, is acting as the Chief of Police.
• Law Enforcement Officer – Any person appointed or employed full time by the state or any political subdivision thereof, or by the state military department as provided in Section 33-1-33, who is duly sworn and vested with authority to bear arms and make arrests, and whose primary responsibility is the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of criminals and the enforcement of the criminal and traffic laws of this state and/or the ordinances of any political subdivision thereof.
• Part-Time Law Enforcement Officer – Any person appointed or employed in a part-time, reserve or auxiliary capacity by the state or any political subdivision thereof who is duly sworn and vested with authority to bear arms and make arrests, and whose primary responsibility is the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of criminals and the enforcement of the criminal and traffic laws of this state and/or the ordinances of any political subdivision thereof.
• Law Enforcement Trainee – Any person appointed or employed in a full-time, part-time, reserve or auxiliary capacity by the state or any political subdivision thereof for the purposes of completing all the selection and training requirements established by the board to become a law enforcement officer or a part-time law enforcement officer. Such individuals shall not have the authority to use force, bear arms, make arrests or exercise any of the powers of a peace officer unless:
(a) The trainee is under the direct control and supervision of a law enforcement officer;
(b) The trainee was previously certified under this chapter; or
(c) The trainee is a certified law enforcement officer in a reciprocating state.
Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal