Bell plans to be part of change – Chief to leave Brookhaven Police Department after 36 years

Published 9:42 pm Friday, June 23, 2017

It’s difficult not to have a few regrets after serving a city for almost four decades. Brookhaven Police Chief Bobby Bell will take his with him when he retires from the department Friday.

“There’s a lot of things that I wish I could have done different,” said Bell. “A lot of conversations I had, I wish I had handled them differently.”

Bell, 59, became chief in 2013, following 32 years of service with the department. It was the position he’d worked toward since starting the department in 1981.

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As a young graduate from Jackson’s Callaway High School, Bell considered three careers — law enforcement, social work and the U.S. Postal Service. He picked policing so he could help people, he said.

He followed his future wife, Elaine, to Brookhaven when she moved here to student teach. They stayed and have no plans to ever leave.

“I believe in what they say. It’s a Home Seekers Paradise. That’s what it’s been for me,” he said.

Brookhaven, though, has a dark side, he said. In 2015, his department investigated 10 homicides. Several of those remain open cases.

“I have a copy of murders that haven’t been solved that I want to keep with me personally so I can look through them,” he said.

Although Bell ran for another four years as chief, he’s not disappointed that he lost to his lieutenant, Kenneth Collins.

Collins will be sworn in as chief Thursday.

“This is the best I’ve felt in the last 15 years. I am relieved, I am happy,” he said. “The night of the election, when I heard the returns, my wife asked me, she said, ‘You don’t look like you’re upset.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not. I’ve given all I can give.”

As chief, one of Bell’s priorities has been the youth of Brookhaven. Now that he’ll have extra time, he plans to get more involved with the Boys & Girls Club of Lincoln County.

“It’s struggling. The doors are barely open,” he said. “I want to go there and put in some time and try to get some resources.”

He’ll also be doing some work with a young man from Brookhaven who recently started a communications company in Flowood.

Bell said he’s seen a lot of changes in his 30 plus years in law enforcement. Criminals have gotten smarter, he said.

“Television has spoiled our way of investigating crimes because the criminals know just as much as we know about how to get out of a crime,” he said.

TV and social media have also kept people who know about crimes in Brookhaven from sharing that information with police.

“They’re worried the perpetrator will find out and try to get even with them,” he said.

Bell will now be part of a long line of police chiefs who have led the men and women in blue in Brookhaven. He considers them all his mentors.

“These guys I’ve learned from, I’ve watched them and to me I was being trained by them. Just watching them work. They were dedicated to the job and they were concerned about their community,” he said.

Now, young officers often want to know what the job can do for them and what the benefits are offered.

“Basically, the community comes second. In the old days, it wasn’t that way,” he said.

But Bell has understood the need for officers to take care of their families on a salary that has never matched the risks of the job. He and the chiefs before him have run the department with three eight-hour shifts and no split shifts, so officers can work second jobs.

Now that Bell is leaving, there’s one other thing he plans to enjoy — facial hair. He hasn’t had a goatee for most of his life because beards weren’t allowed in the department’s dress code. He grew one this last month.

“I was so disappointed it was so white,” he said.

It’s not surprising his beard is gray after three decades in law enforcement though.

“I can’t say anything negative about policing here in Brookhaven,” he said. “I will always look after Brookhaven Police Department no matter what.”

Bell said he will support the new chief.

“I’ve had a conversation with Chief Collins this morning. I’m going to be here for him,” he said. “I’m going to be here for the city of Brookhaven. I’m not going to run. This change everybody’s talking about we need, I’m going to try to be part of it.”