By Caleb Bedillion
TUPELO – Recommendations made last fall to remedy racial rifts mostly remain under discussion or in the early implementation phases by Mayor Jason Shelton’s administration.
These recommendations were all compiled by temporary study committees appointed by Tupelo’s elected leadership and dealt with community policing, community outreach by City Hall and the creation of a more diverse city workforce.
A few measures are more or less in place. Shelton created the position of community outreach liaison and filled it by hiring Marcus Gary.
The mayor’s administration also revised the job duties of the neighborhood coordinator aimed at ensuring a broader vision of city-wide cohesiveness.
Compiling a directory of faith-based organizations and social services remains ongoing
For now, efforts to bring more minorities onto Tupelo’s payroll, particularly at the police department, will focus on a recruitment partnership with the historically-black Rust College, in Holly Springs.
However, a recommendation to bring outside observers onto hiring and promotion panels in order to ensure impartiality was dismissed by the administration.
Efforts to strengthen community policing mostly await full implementation.
Last summer, after protesters made allegations of prejudice and excessive force against the Tupelo Police Department, civil rights advocates demanded a stronger commitment to the philosophy of community–oriented policing.
Tupelo’s leadership, including Shelton and Police Chief Bart Aguirre, have insisted that a commitment to community policing has existed for years.
However, the study committee devoted to the topic suggested ways to expand current efforts.
Those suggested included neighborhood foot patrols as well as the resurrection of defunct programs like bike patrols and “coffee with a cop.”
Tupelo Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis said bike patrols are back by request for special events. Implementation of foot patrols remains under discussion, as does the coffee with a cop program, which was designed to foster one-on-one conversations between community members and police officers.
One new initiative is on the calendar. A March 6 public forum is scheduled to promote dialogue around Tupelo’s police department.
“What we are going to be doing is implementing an ‘All-America Conversation’ on various topics,” said Lewis. “This one is going to be a welcome to the TPD. And we are going to have an All-America Conversation about the police department.”
Lewis added that the city is seeking to raise awareness around police department initiatives and events through the city’s neighborhood coordinator and outreach liaison.
“They are out in the neighborhoods, spreading the word about what’s going on,” said Lewis. “They are carrying the mayor’s message.”
Shelton is also emphasizing the need to ensure that new hires in the police department understand the importance of the community policing mindset.
“I met with three new officers and went over how proud we are of them,” said Shelton. “I went through some of the recent history of what we’ve gone through as a city and pledged to them that the city is always going to have their back, they are always going to have the city’s support. But as law enforcement officers they are representatives of the city. We expect the officers to be professional and conduct themselves in a manner befitting the city of Tupelo.”