By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – When Tupelo Police Lt. Tony McCoy sees detectives Tremaine Frison and Steven Wade working an investigation, he can’t help but smile because more than 15 years ago he was them.
McCoy, a 20-year veteran of the department and head of the internal affairs division, is African-American and so are Wade and Frison.
In 1995, McCoy and former Deputy Police Chief Robert Hall were the only black detectives on the force and today so are Frison and Wade. It’s been since 2000 that the department had a black detective, and that was McCoy. There are also three women in the investigative unit.
“Those guys remind me of myself looking up to Robert, who was the only black detective I’d seen at the time and the only one the department had when I got here,” said McCoy. “To have been where they are all those years ago makes me feel good to see the department still progressing in that way.”
McCoy said hiring and promoting minority officers was a stagnant practice in previous administrations.
When Tony Carleton became chief in 2010, making the department more diverse was one of his main goals and that didn’t mean just hiring and promoting black officers. Hiring Hispanics and women officers has also been important.
“These people applied for these jobs and got them,” said Carleton. “They weren’t hand picked. They were qualified and got these jobs on their own merits. We live in a very diverse community and we want our police department to mirror that diversity.”
Out of the 111 full-time officers working with the department, 14 are women. Four of those are black and one is Hispanic. There are 13 black male officers and one Hispanic. Both Hispanic officers were with the department before Carleton was chief.
Minorities make up a large portion of the supervisors in the department as well. Maj. Anthony Hill is the highest ranking minority in the department, serving as second in command to Carleton along with Maj. Jackie Clayton, who is white. Capt. Bart Aguirre is Hispanic and Sgt. Katarsha White, a black woman, is the only female supervisor. Lt. Jessie King joins McCoy in rank and Sgt. James King rounds out the group. They are all black.
Wade has been with the department six years and has worked in investigations since March. He and Frison both were patrolmen. He said he feels his new position will provide some incentive for other officers to apply for higher positions.
“I felt that I could have been a great asset to the division so I applied for the job and got it,” said Wade. “The process was fair. I think more minority officers, whether that be race or sex, will continue to grow and move up in this department. I hope my being able to do it provides some motivation for others.”
Clayton has been with the department for 32 years and has seen an increase in the department’s hiring and promoting of minority officers.
“I think people are getting better education and there are more opportunities within the department to advance,” said Clayton. “When I started there were only about 70 total officers and we didn’t have nearly the special units we have now. More jobs are available to expand your career now.”
When Aguirre started 26 years ago, there weren’t any ranking Hispanic officers and very few minorities in the unit. A lot has changed, he said.
“Our department supports hiring Hispanic officers,” said Aguirre, who has been in criminal investigations for 23 years and was head of detectives for many years. “The level of minority officers hired by the department has really increased over the years and that’s good for the whole community.”
McCoy said the department has come a long way in terms of diversity but still has a long way to go.
“No matter what the race or sex of a person is we first want to make sure qualified people are being hired and promoted,” said McCoy. “If race is the only reason a minority is hired then the system is still wrong. That will be the same thing that had been happening all those years and that’s not change.”