OPINION: Farewell to the chief

When I arrived in Tupelo 13 and a half years ago, I wasn’t completely green as a reporter, but I wasn’t far from it.
I had spent 18 months serving as the education & crime reporter at the Natchez Democrat, so I knew a burglary from a strong arm robbery. But I didn’t know Tupelo, Lee County or Northeast Mississippi.
In August 1996, Harold Ray Presley was the Lee County Sheriff, Mike Burns was the Tupelo Fire Chief and Jerry Crocker had just taken over as Tupelo Police Chief. Then-Capt. Harold Chaffin was the Tupelo chief of detectives.
Jerry Crocker and Mike Burns retired and moved on to use their expertise in other capacities. Harold Ray was killed in the line of duty in 2001.
Harold Chaffin, after seven years as Tupelo’s chief and 35 years in law enforcement, will officially retire Thursday. For me, it’s kind of an end of an era.
Everyone in Lee County was kind to me when I started, but Harold Chaffin routinely took time to fill me in on the basics of police work and personalities in the crime-fighting community.
A tall man with a quiet voice and calm, peaceful demeanor, Chaffin was definitely more Andy Griffith than Law & Order. Chaffin was comfortable talking to the reporters because it was part of his job, but he didn’t seek out attention.
Chaffin was interested in making sure I had the right information to write the story during the four years I served as crime reporter before switching beats to cover health care.
I felt as comfortable in the Tupelo Police detectives office as I did at the Daily Journal. “Come see us,” he’d say as I left his office after visits.
I know there were people who talked to me because he vouched for me as a reporter who would listen.
Police officers are generally wary of reporters and their pesky questions.
The Tupelo Police Department had been through a difficult time in the year before my arrival over questionable purchasing and accounting procedures at North Mississippi Narcotics.
One officer told me, “If you’re not for us, you’re against us.”
Another officer told me about how an account of a foot chase had been turned upside down in an effort to create a more compelling story.
Chaffin understood there were times I would have to write things the police department wouldn’t like. All he asked was that I be fair.
And that’s what I tried to do. I can’t say I always got it right; no one ever does. But any mistakes I made weren’t because Chaffin had led me astray.
After years of dedicated service, Chaffin has earned his rest.
Michaela Gibson Morris is a Daily Journal staff writer. Contact her at (662) 678-1599 or michaela.morris@djournal.com.

Michaela Gibson Morris

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