City of Brookhaven considers Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, May 4, 2023

In the wake of the city’s decision to make the Chief of Police position an appointed rather than elected one, aldermen have said multiple people have voiced their opinions — some in support and some in opposition. Two citizens have appeared before the board at the past two meetings to express their displeasure publicly.

On Tuesday, Alderman-at-large Don Underwood proposed the creation of a Citizens Public Safety Advisory board, committee or commission.

“One of the things said was we were cutting out citizens’ input,” Underwood said. “In the last election, I won by 12 votes. The mayor won by 24 votes. It was definitely what you’d call a close election. And only 40 percent of the registered voters voted in that election.”

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Votes make a difference, but not if the right to vote is not exercised. Underwood said the proposed board would give citizens the opportunity to have a direct hand in decision making for the city.

“We should have had this a couple of weeks ago,” said Ward 3 Alderman Charles Caston Sr. “I’ve been getting all these calls … and now you bring this.”

Upon the request of a couple of board members, Mayor Joe Cox said the aldermen should take time to study and digest the proposal and address it at the next regular meeting.

The committee as proposed would:

  • Assist the mayor and aldermen in the effective administration of the public safety services of the city.
  • Have no regulatory, administrative or executive power over personnel or city activities, or police department, but will have power to make recommendations regarding the selection of Chief of Police and any concerns raised regarding the operation or activities of the police department.
  • Be authorized to attend and participate in interviews, meetings or introductions of potential candidates for police chief.

Each alderman would appoint two members of the community for two years, who may be reappointed, “in an effort to maintain maximum diversity representing the citizens of Brookhaven.”


In other business

The board considered implementing a policy to restrict the use of city-owned vehicles.

“We have talked about it for months,” Underwood said. “I would suggest we set a limit at 25 miles from the city limits for six months, then reduce it to 20 miles for another six months, then to not permit vehicles to go outside Lincoln County. That gives a year to get it down to the county limits.”

Underwood said the intent is to keep city-owned vehicles that are taken home by employees from traveling outside the county when not on official business. The stair-step mile limit would keep the policy from being punitive, or a hardship upon anyone who may currently travel beyond the county line to his or her home.

Attorney Bobby Moak said the offices of the Attorney General and the State Auditor require a policy of some sort be decided upon by the board and implemented.

“The policy can be whatever you want, but there must be a policy,” Moak said. “I would suggest you look at other city’s policies before doing it.”

Moak said the two specific prohibitions must include the use of city vehicles for any personal purpose, such as going to the grocery store on the way home from work; and the use of a city vehicle to travel from a city job to a non-city job.

One possible exception to this is found in Mississippi state law 17-25-11, enacted in 2021 by House Bill 631. This law says “certified law enforcement officers or certified part-time law enforcement officers … may wear the official uniform and may utilize the official firearm and the official vehicle issued by the employing jurisdiction while in the performance of private security services in off-duty hours. The governing authority of a municipality must approve of such use of the uniform, official weapon and vehicle … Approval shall be on an employee-by-employee basis and not by general order.”

The board also approved a social media use policy. Under the new policy, all social media posts must be submitted to the office of the Mayor to be reviewed prior to public posting. The policy applies to all city departments.

“Anything improper or illegal will be pulled down,” Moak said.