Brookhaven alderman, police chief spar over officer training

Published 4:56 pm Thursday, October 5, 2023

As Brookhaven police chiefs gave updates to the City’s Board of Aldermen Tuesday, the discussion began to go awry as an alderman accused them of lying about training.

Assistant Chief Clint Earls talked about Crisis Intervention Training in partnership with Region 8 Mental Health Services. The CIT training provides officers with the skills and resources to properly interact with mental health patients, Earls said.

He also said the City needs to purchase an intoxilyzer machine for the police department to measure breath alcohol levels. The only such machine currently located in Lincoln County is at the Sheriff’s Office, and has been down for more than a year due to mechanical issues and a need for replacement parts, Earls said.

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If the City could purchase its own machine to be housed at the Police Department — at an approximate cost of $2,500 to $4,000 — it would be available to BPD officers — all of whom are already trained to use it, Earls said — as well as officers from the Sheriff’s Office and Mississippi Highway Patrol. When the LCSO machine is repaired, two machines would then be available to local law enforcement.

Alderman-at-large Don Underwood then spoke up and began asking for specifics on police training.

“The chief of police is supposed to maintain 20 hours of executive-level continuing education each year,” Underwood said.

“I get all my hours from the chiefs’ conferences,” Chief Kenneth Collins said from his seat in the boardroom gallery.

“I’m sure you do. For everyone else, officers with 0-2 years’ experience are supposed to get 8 hours of annual training; officers with 3-4 years’ experience need 16 hours; and officers with five or more years are supposed to get 24 hours,” the alderman said. “Are y’all doing that? How is that reported?”

“It is being done,” Earls said. “Once completed, the officers give their paperwork to the administrative assistant, who puts it in their folder.”

“Samantha, have you received that?” Underwood asked City Clerk Samantha Melancon, who responded with a simple, “No.”

“In other words, y’all haven’t done it. It hasn’t been done,” Underwood said, addressing Earls and Collins.

“It’s been done,” Collins replied, and Earls echoed the assurance. “It’s all been reported to the state.”

“Quit lying,” Underwood said. “Y’all quit lying.”

“I don’t understand the disrespect,” Collins said. “We have everything we need …”

Underwood interrupted to say the chief “got in my face” at an April 2023 meeting.

“Mr. Underwood, this is not the place for that. This is a board meeting,” Collins said. “Your personal grievance …”

The alderman and chief continued to address each other with overlapping comments.

“If you hate me, that’s your business, but don’t hate the police department. Don’t hate the police department,” Collins said. “We protect the citizens.”

“Do you know what my daddy did to put food on the table?” Underwood said. “Our house got shot into —”

Mayor Joe Cox called the meeting back to order, and Chief Collins stood and walked out of the room.

“Get the hell out of here,” Underwood called after him.

Over the next few minutes, Ward 4 Alderman Jeff Henning and Ward 2 Alderman Shannon Moore had a calm discussion with Earls about more information about the breath alcohol tester training. The short interaction ended with a call from the mayor for the board and police department to study the matter more and make a decision.

Then Underwood spoke up again.

“I had another question, though, about training, since the Chief lied about everything. Uh, how many hours do y’all report to the state for training?” he asked Earls.

The assistant chief said it varied per officer, depending on each one’s time of service.

“And you’re saying that y’all have reported this?” Underwood asked.

“Yes, sir. Absolutely. 100 percent. I have laid eyes on it,” Earls replied.

In the closed-door executive session that followed Tuesday’s board meeting, Underwood said he and Collins exchanged more heated words, including an accusation of racism by the alderman from the chief. Collins said he did not call the alderman a racist, but did ask, “Mr. Underwood, are you talking to me and treating me like you do because I’m a black chief?” to which Underwood replied, “Oh, I’m a racist now.”

The board and police department have a history of opposition on issues, including personnel, policies, in addition to training. Most recently, the board accepted a report from independent police practices expert Bill Harmening on the police department, following a letter of opinion from a grand jury that was submitted to the mayor’s office. BPD responded with questions over the legitimacy of the investigation and the investigator, and defended its policies and procedures.