To elect or appoint police chiefs?

Published 7:57 pm Friday, June 9, 2017

Should police chiefs be elected or appointed by a Board of Aldermen?

Brookhaven is one of 11 cities in the state that elects its police chief. The remaining 264 are appointed.

Aberdeen, Amory, Baldwyn, Corinth, Houston, Iuka, Nettleton, New Albany, Okolona, Brookhaven and Forest elect their top law enforcement officers.

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There are obvious benefits to both systems. An elected chief is accountable to voters. If he/she isn’t doing a good job, voters will choose someone else. But that only happens every four years.

An appointed chief who isn’t doing a good job can be fired by a Board of Aldermen at any time.

An elected chief tends to have more control over a police department, which can be both good and bad. A chief, in theory, is in a better position to make decisions regarding the department compared to aldermen or a mayor.

But that assumes the individual in the job is qualified and competent. Voters don’t always elect the most qualified individual.

The biggest difference in elected or appointed police chiefs can be qualifications. Appointed chiefs can be subject to qualifications required by a Board of Aldermen. Elected chiefs need only to live in the city and gather enough signatures to qualify to run. Voters may choose the most qualified candidate or they may choose the most popular.

Appointed chiefs must navigate the politics of a multi-member Board of Aldermen, which can be difficult. Elected chiefs have four years of job security and can focus on the task of running a department, instead of pleasing board members.

It wasn’t that long ago that most department heads in cities were elected. City clerks are now appointed, as are most other positions.

For the same reasons that the state Legislature changed how school superintendents are selected (appointed, not elected), all police chiefs will likely be appointed in the future.

That’s not to say it’s necessarily the best method, but it’s by far the most popular.