Tupelo’s application for recertification of Assistant Police Chief Robert Hall through the Mississippi Board of Law Enforcement Standards is the prudent step in resolving doubts about Hall’s suitability for the position for which he was rehired earlier this year.
Hall’s certificate was returned, as required by law, when he resigned from the police force in 2007 after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from his release of a hit-and-run suspect following an accident.
Police Chief Tony Carleton recommended Hall’s hiring as assistant chief earlier this year, and the hiring was approved by the City Council, but not without some members expressing concerns. Some other citizens also expressed reservations about hiring Hall without recertification.
On another side of the issues, some black Tupelo citizens say Hall has been unfairly treated throughout the process because he is black.
The two black City Council members, Ward 4’s Nettie Davis and Ward 7’s Willie Jennings, said this week if Hall is demoted while the process is working, as requested by two other council members, racial tensions probably will rise. Ward’s 3’s Jim Newell and Wad 6’s Mike Bryan support the demotion.
Mayor Jack Reed, Jr., a strong supporter of Hall’s rehiring, says he will not demote Hall. The demotion to a an officer in training would cost Hall about $30,000 in annual salary.
We agree with the mayor, Davis and Jennings on that point. Hall was rehired in good faith with a council majority approving, and a demotion with the facts the same as they were when he was hired earlier this year invites unproductive community tensions.
Allow the certification process to go forward to whatever conclusion it reaches, then reassess the situation.
History is instructive in this situation.
Tupelo’s most serious racial divisions in the late 1970s centered on allegations of police brutality by white officers against black people. Street marches and protests, counter-protests by the Ku Klux Klan (mostly by out-of-towners), and nationwide negative news coverage gave Tupelo a black eye and further complicated the situation.
When full communications were reopened among leaders of the whole community a resolution and understanding were reached. Resolution in the 1970s situation involved biracial civic leadership beyond City Hall, an inclusive method that has never failed Tupelo in deciding how to move forward on difficult and important issues.
Tupelo’s progress can be measured over decades in the degree to which people remain open, fair, honest, tolerant, and pragmatic about doing what’s best for the community.
The process started with the application for recertification is clearly laid out; there’s no reason to in effect compromise that process with additional City Council action.
NEMS Daily Journal