Tupelo police chief prefers three majors to one deputy

TUPELO – Police Chief Harold Chaffin says the Tupelo Police Department’s command structure of three majors works better than one with a deputy police chief, but some experts say Tupelo’s way can be problematic if the command lines aren’t drawn clearly.
Since former Deputy Police Chief Robert Hall was fired from the position in 2007 after a felony indictment, the department has since done away with the position, and Chaffin said that as long as he’s chief, it won’t be reinstated.
“When Deputy Chief Hall was indicted I decided to take a bureaucratic loop out of the department and eliminate that job,” said Chaffin, who appointed Hall to the position when he became chief in 2002. “I use my three majors the same way that I used the deputy chief. I actually like this structure better. It has worked well with me going straight to the majors. I give them the assignments and they carry them out.”
Before he was fired, the majors reported to Hall, who then reported to Chaffin. Dealing directly with the majors, Chaffin says, gives him a chance to be more hands-on and has been helpful because it’s a more direct management style.
Questions arose in the Cliff Hardy trail and was also mentioned in Cindy Brown’s ethic’s study on the city about if Chaffin even ran the department. Some said one of the majors actually ran the department and not Chaffin.
Despite Tupelo’s unique command structure, the general concept of command structure in police departments is simple.
Jack Rinchich, president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, said it’s most common to have a chief, followed by an assistant or deputy chief, followed by majors and so forth down the line.
Departments with more than 100 officers usually have an assistant chief. Tupelo has nearly 130.
“In my opinion it’s very important to have a deputy or assistant chief,” said Rinchich. “That person can take the helm in the chief’s absence and knows how to do that because he mirrors the chief’s enforcement ideals. If I was a chief of a department with 100 or more men I’d feel a lot more comfortable having an assistant chief in place.”
Oxford Police Chief Mike Martin said having Joey East as his assistant chief works best for his department. He does not use majors; instead, he has captains who head certain divisions. Both Corinth and Starkville police departments also have assistant police chiefs.

The three majors
Every morning, Chaffin meets with his three majors – Ronny Thomas, Anthony Hill and Jackie Clayton – to go over the day’s plan.
Because each has different responsibilities, Chaffin said, they all bring a different expertise to the department.
Thomas is over the investigations, Hill over the special operations unit and Clayton over patrol. Thomas is retiring at the end of the month. It is unclear who, if anyone, will take his place.
“I have very good majors and they know their jobs and carry them out well,” said Chaffin. “They are very well-trained. Depending on what a person needs, they can talk to one or the other. Jackie can talk about patrol, Anthony about special operations and Ronny about investigative maters.”
Rinchich said having three majors who all act in an assistant chief’s role can cause problems within the department.
“From a public relations standpoint not having an assistant chief can be a disaster,” said Rinchich. “If you have three majors filling that job and no one knows who the department spokesman is if the chief is out, then it could cause rivalry issues. Three men with the same rank, and one may be getting all the media glory when the chief’s away, that’s a problem.”
Rinchich said that problem can be alleviated if the chief makes everyone’s job clearly defined.
Chaffin said Clayton, a 30-year veteran, is the senior major and takes most of the media calls when Chaffin is out. When Chaffin was out sick for a few months in 2008, all of the majors shared the duties of running the department, but Clayton handled the media.
“All of the majors have their areas they work in, but Jackie is the one who deals with the media in general if I’m out,” said Chaffin. “But it may be a case where Anthony or Ronny may be best-suited to deal with the issue and in that case one of them would deal with it.”
The Daily Journal regularly talks to all three majors.
Chaffin said knowing their roles has prevented competition among the majors.
Even with defined roles for multiple majors acting in an assistant chief’s role, Rinchich said he wouldn’t be comfortable with three men filling his shoes; he would prefer a deputy chief who was on the same page with him.
Chaffin promoted Hall to deputy chief and knows how important that position can be. But he said the department runs well the way it’s set up now.
“I like the way we operate and I think the officers respond well to it,” the chief said, “so this is how we’re going to continue to do things as long as I’m chief.”

Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.

Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal