Police chief on city changes: ‘We’re not going to follow those unrighteous rules’

Published 3:49 pm Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Brookhaven’s police chief says he simply will not abide efforts by the mayor and board of aldermen to set policies within his department.

“I’m the elected chief of police for the Brookhaven Police Department,” said Chief Kenneth Collins. “I run that department and I make policy for that department.”

Collins shared his frustration about what he perceives as attempts by certain elected officials to “get rid of me.”

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The efforts began in early April when aldermen voted, without warning, to shift the police chief position from an elected one to an appointed position, effective in 2025.

“Who gave (them) the right to take the vote away from the people?” Collins said.

The aldermen also voted to cap overtime hours for city employees – including police department employees, a move which Collins said is illegal.

“Ever since 9-11, we are first responders,” Collins said. “I told them you cannot cap our hours. It’s illegal. The state auditor has said first responder hours cannot be capped …

“They think I’m incompetent, but I’m not.”

Earlier this month, the board of aldermen also voted to create a new city-wide social media policy requiring that all social media posts for city departments must pre-approved by the mayor’s office personnel before posting. And, the board began discussions of creating a new policy to restrict the use of city-owned vehicles, such as those used by law enforcement personnel.

“We’re not going to follow those unrighteous rules,” Collins said.

Instead, he proactively shut down the Brookhaven Police Department Facebook page, which he had used to post news and information for the public. “Let the mayor and board of aldermen – when something bad happens, when something vital needs to be shared, when someone is missing – let the mayor and board of aldermen tell the people. Because they don’t know what’s going on.”

Continuing, Collins said some of the elected officials “want to run the department and they don’t want the public to know what’s going on.”

The complaints over social media stemmed, he said, from his use of a street nickname in relation to a shooting suspect. Collins said he has been vocal about the growing gun violence and gang issues in Brookhaven, both of which he said some officials do not want to recognize.

Now, the chief said, efforts to curtail the use of police department vehicles ignores the policies already in place at the department and represents a continuing effort of elected officials to wrest control of the department away from him.

During the May 2 board meeting, aldermen discussed the need for a city-owned vehicle ordinance with City Attorney Bobby Moak.

“We have talked about it for months,” said Don Underwood, alderman at large. “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.

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.”

Collins maintains that the policy, which has yet to be approved or implemented, is a direct attack on him and his leadership abilities. “This is a personal attack on me,” he said. “Meanwhile, they’re going to burn the whole city down.”

The chief, whose term ends in 2025, said while he will not kowtow to policies he believes are unethical or illegal, he continues to believe he is doing what is necessary for the residents of Brookhaven.

“I think when you score a touchdown and you spike the ball and do a dance in the end zone, you don’t realize it’s a four-quarter game,” he said. “God has the last game-winning drive, whether He’s going to kick a field goal or score a touchdown, He’s in control …

“I have more support than they ever know because I got God on my side.”