By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Tupelo Police Capt. Bart Aguirre stood behind then-Mayor Jack Reed Jr. in June during the announcement of the city officially receiving property from a FBI raid, land planned for a future police headquarters.
Today, Aguirre, the incoming police chief, will meet with architects related to building a new police headquarters. He lists the new police headquarters at the top of his list of goals.
But that’s not a surefire sign the police will locate at the property at Franklin and Front streets.
With a new city administration, discussions that ended earlier this year related to the Tupelo Police Department and the Lee County Sheriff’s Department sharing a facility may begin anew.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson told then-candidate Jason Shelton months ago that he’d like to discuss the idea for a shared facility if Shelton became mayor. Now, Shelton said he’s willing to listen to ideas that may mutually benefit the city and county through cost savings.
“I’m very optimistic about Sheriff Johnson, Chief Aguirre, myself and the Board of Supervisors having a very positive working relationship,” Shelton said Wednesday. “We’re all in the same boat with law enforcement, public safety and economic development.”
Aguirre officially becomes the city’s police chief on Monday, replacing Tony Carleton, who will take a police job in Columbus.
Professional acquaintances who call themselves friends, the soon-to-be police chief even listed the sheriff on his resume as the first reference. This marks a change in relationship between the two top law enforcement officers in Tupelo and Lee County.
It also marks a change between the sheriff’s relationship with Tupelo’s mayor. Tension between Johnson and Reed began when the former mayor selected Carleton, then Lee County jail administrator, as police chief without giving the sheriff a head’s up about the hiring. Later, former TPD assistant police chief Robert Hall, supported by Reed, was denied permission to carry a firearm from the state Board of Law Enforcement Officer Training, of which Johnson was a member.
Discussions related to a shared police and sheriff’s department facility ended earlier this year with Reed saying he wasn’t interested. Reed said earlier this year that an arrangement putting an appointed police chief and elected sheriff sharing a facility could create conflict. Reed also questioned how much the partnership would save the city.
Shelton and Johnson have a much warmer relationship, evidenced by the sheriff recently displaying on his desk a hand-written card from the new mayor. He said he thinks the new city administration may be interested in revisiting the idea.
Aguirre should expect a conversation from Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson soon about continuing discussions about a shared facility.
“Once he takes office on Monday, one of the first meetings I will have is see if he’s interested in pursuing this,” Johnson said Wednesday.
If city and county officials agree to consider a partnership, it will raise many questions thought resolved for the police. Will the proposed facility still locate on the 3- to 4-acre property at Franklin and Front streets? If not, where?
Along with police and sheriff departments, Johnson also envisions a complex that includes a courtroom and jail. All of this is before the issue of how much the joint project would cost and how much each entity would pay.
Shelton and Johnson have both said discussions may lead to the same conclusions that Reed reached. However, the mayor and sheriff said they’re willing to have the conversation.
“I’m never going to take the position that I’m not willing to talk about something,” Shelton said. “I’ll be happy to sit down and brainstorm about this.”