Four in race for police chief: Incumbent Bell faces three contenders
The four men who want to be chief of police for Brookhaven all have a wealth of law enforcement experience.
Seeking the badge are three Democrats — Ward 1 Alderman Randy Belcher, incumbent Bobby Bell and BPD Lt. Kenneth Collins — and one Republican, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Gaskin.
Brookhaven, based on its population of 12,513, according to the 2010 Census, is divided into six wards with an alderman-at-large as well. Mayor and aldermen are considered full-time jobs as is police chief.
The annual salary of the police chief is $67,000. That’s just slightly less than the salary of the mayor.
The winner between Belcher, Bell and Collins at the primary will face Gaskin in the general election.
Belcher, 52, lives in the block of Old Wesson Road. He is currently serving as Ward 1 alderman. He is married to Zandra Brown Belcher and they have four children and three grandchildren. He is a member of Mt. Wade Missionary Baptist Church. He is a 2000 graduate of Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Academy the Mississippi Municipal League.
“Having served the community members of Ward 1 to the best of my ability I felt that I could do the same for the entire community,” he said. “It has always been my passion to help others and I think this position will allow me to do so. I will work extremely hard in an effort to make the citizens of Brookhaven feel protected. The community will be my priority for making a change in a positive manner.”
To do this, he plans to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community by building trust. “Trust is one thing that is needed in any situation to make it work, however, it will take the effort of everyone involved to find a working solution,” he said. “Change is not always welcomed but when it is a change for the better who can argue with that and if people are ready for a change let their voices be heard. I do not expect there to be any additional funding requirements. I am sure at some point there will be a budget review but I will work closely with the Board of Aldermen and make the best decisions in order to make the department function.”
Belcher wants to build and strengthen the police department within itself. He promises a “stress-free work environment with an open-door policy.”
That will take a “combined effort of the whole department to make everything run efficiently because truth be told my success will be based on the department,” he said. “You are only as good as the individuals that work under your leadership. If you build a great working relationship with each individual with great respect, it can only lead to success.”
He said a police chief must develop a trust within the community. “Getting to know as many people as possible to provide them with the security they deserve and compassion when needed,” he said. “People want someone that they can talk to in private and not have to worry about being made known or any retaliation being taken against them. Once trust has been established and the community feels safe the fight against crime will be a victory for the citizens of Brookhaven.”
He wants to establish a mentor program for all ages. “I have found that there are a lot of good people here that just need some guidance in their life,” he said. “Having coached for many years, I have found that reaching a child when they are young and helping to build character makes a difference in their lives.”
He wants to see adults in the program as well. “I know that once a person has been arrested and charged with different types of crimes, it is hard for them to find gainful employment. I would like to work directly with those individuals and assist them to getting back on track and be a productive citizen of Brookhaven,” he said.
The 59-year-old incumbent lives in the 500 block of J.W. Morgan Way. He is married with one son. He graduated from Callaway High School and has a degree from Alcorn State University. He has more than 100 conference hours through Mississippi Judicial College and attended the state Law Enforcement Training Academy. He attends Thayer Church of Christ.
He has been chosen Police Officer of the Year; Citizen of the Year and an Unsung Hero. He was inducted to the Callaway Hall of Fame.
“I am seeking re-election because I want to continue to be a public servant for our community, and build on all the things we have started in the past four years,” he said. “This includes computer aided dispatch; officer assigned body cams; software-based evidence and property tracking; (the purchase of) less lethal JPX Pepper Guns; and paperless reporting case management system.”
Bell said he wants to continue to work with outside agencies to solve some of the crimes that happened in the city during the year 2015. The city saw 10 murders that year.
Bell swore in as the Brookhaven police chief in 2013, following 32 years of service within the department.
“This is what I worked toward ever since I started at the Brookhaven Police Department in 1981,” Bell said when he announced his intention to run. “I have started at the bottom and moved up the ranks to become police chief. I got into policing because I wanted to help people.”
In addition to helping the community through his job at the police department, Bell has made it his priority to help the youth of Brookhaven.
“When I ran for this position I promised the people that we would be more visible in the neighborhoods, especially those that we had annexed,” Bell said. “I promised more technology, and I also promised we would add more manpower to the department. I have done all those things.”
Since becoming police chief, Bell has facilitated the purchase of body cameras for all of the city’s police officers, and cameras for the police cars.
“We have more equipment than we have ever had at the Brookhaven Police Department,” he said. “These cameras were purchased not only to protect our officers, but to protect our citizens.”
Bell said he pledged to set up a neighborhood watch program and get the police department more involved with the community’s youth. He has done both.
“We have begun to work with kids in the community, as far as providing them with games and spending time with them to change things,” Bell said. “We are more community involved than we have ever been, and we are going to continue those things.”
As his platform for the 2017 police chief election, Bell hopes to continue adding technology to the police department and working on combating the city’s increasing drug problem.
“We will continue to work on the drug problem, along with the other agencies that are helping combat the drugs in our community,” he said.
As far as the increased crime goes, Bell said, “I’m not going to be satisfied until we come to some kind of conclusion for each case.”
He intends on carrying out each of his goals by working with the people and resources available to him, and by visiting schools to educate and influence Brookhaven’s youth.
Collins, 53, is a lieutenant in the Brookhaven Police Department. He lives in the 800 block of Dissa Street. He is married with two children. Collins is a graduate of Brookhaven High School and Copiah-Lincoln Community College. He attends Mt. Wade M.B. Church and Crump Chapel.
Collins served for eight years with the 155th National Guard and was First Squad Leader.
He wants to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community, building bonds and working with other agencies “to bring criminals to justice,” he said.
Collins said there is a need for more officers on the streets to cover the annexed areas. “We should arrange meetings in those areas with residents and appoint leaders and start a neighborhood watch,” he said. “Assign officers to work areas each day — their job is to get to know the residents in the community and find out their concerns and issues they have. Our department needs to build better relationships with the people we serve. By having an office familiar with the issues we can report directly to the department and we’ll be able to stay on top of things before they get out of hand.”
Collins said the top issues in the city are the protection of children, crime prevention and the community. “We need to get into the schools and work with the school board, resource officers and parents to reach our children before they get into trouble,” he said. “We should interact with our kids on a daily basis and not only when they are in trouble or when we need information from them.
“By interacting with them we’re steadily building trust and respect with them and when you need their help they’re more willing to give it.”
Collins wants to hire more officers for the department. “We need officers to have a vested interest in this town. It shouldn’t be just a job to them,” he said. “With the additional manpower we can adequately patrol more areas, and also have the necessary backup when needed. We need more training for our investigators and our officers for the ever-changing environments.
“We also should be willing to work with other agencies to solve crimes whenever the need arise.”
Collins believes officers need to know the people they are sworn to protect. “We need to be visible in every community not, just show up when things have gone wrong. They need to know we care about them and their issues,” he said.
Collins has 30 years in law enforcement, which includes three years with Lincoln County Sheriff Department, 27 years with BPD and over eight years with the National Guard. “I have spent my career in service to the people of Brookhaven and Lincoln County,” he said. “I was born and raised here. I chose to raise my family here. I want Brookhaven to be that place where people want to come back here to live.”
Gaskin, 38, lives in the 500 block of South Cleveland Avenue. He is married and has three children. He is a member of Easthaven Baptist Church. He is a graduate of BHS and Co-Lin.
Gaskin has a long list of law enforcement experience. He as been employed with Brookhaven and Wesson police departments and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. He is a graduate of the state Law Enforcement Training Academy and has training in narcotics operations, criminal apprehension and prevention and response to suicide bombing.
He was appointed delegate for Lincoln County Fraternal Order of Police and currently serves part-time with Lincoln County Sheriff Office. He is administrator and treasurer of Lincoln County Reserve Deputy Force and team leader for Lincoln County Special Response Team.
He served 14 years in the Mississippi Army National Guard and is a graduate of U.S. Army Infantry School, Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention School, Army Primary Leadership Development Course, Army Advanced Leader Course and Army Combat Life Saver Course. He is assigned to and served as Customs and Border Protection agent for the 1-155th Infantry Battalion and serves as a casualty notification officer. He is a state-appointed victim advocate.
He is a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a veteran of the Global War on Terrorism. He is a recipient of four Army commendation medals, three Army Achievement medals, three Army Good Conduct medals and the Mississippi War medal.
He is a volunteer mentor of children for 20 years through boxing, kickboxing and karate. He has been involved in multiple community restoration projects and Field Day events in surrounding schools. He is a regular keynote speaker for school and community programs and teaches anti-drug awareness programs and career direction programs.
Gaskin said BPD officers lack the proper leadership and training to excel at their jobs. “Turnover rates are shockingly high. Grant opportunities for specialized training or new equipment are not pursued. Grants that do fund increased protection are lost due to improper reporting, he said.
“Under my watch, BPD will not be a reactive police force that just responds to crime. Instead, BPD will protect your family and possessions with proactive policing to identify and root out the criminals in our community — and keep them out — for good.”
“We will emphasize crime prevention by pinpointing the underlying causes of crime and working with the community to address these causes,” he said. “This requires the active participation of residents, local government, civic and business leaders, churches, schools, the hospital, and other law enforcement agencies.”
Increased training and equipment upgrades will be a priority. “Training opportunities are routinely offered by our state and federal government and funded through competitive grants,” he said. “We just have to apply for them and comply with their record keeping requirements. Fancy equipment is of no use unless an officer is comfortable using it in a high stress situation.”Gaskin said he is troubled that there is currently no effective working relationship with nearby law enforcement agencies. “The BPD radio system is not compatible and cannot communicate with the Lincoln County Sheriff, Mississippi Highway Patrol or the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics,” he said. “I will oversee an upgrade of our radio system, which is absolutely necessary for the safety of our officers.”