An independent investigation into the Brookhaven Police Department in Mississippi has uncovered significant “competency issues” within the department’s investigations unit, raising questions about its overall effectiveness. Initiated in response to concerns raised by a Lincoln County grand jury, the investigation was aimed at addressing allegations of unprofessional conduct and other deficiencies within the agency.
Examining the Concerns
The city of Brookhaven took a proactive approach by hiring William Harmening, a retired law enforcement officer, to delve into the grand jury’s complaints and conduct a comprehensive review of the police department’s operations. Mayor Joe Cox emphasized the city’s commitment to transparency and efficiency in addressing these concerns.
A Critical Grand Jury Report
The grand jury’s report, issued in July, pointed out a range of issues that had raised alarm bells. According to the report, officers within the Brookhaven Police Department poorly investigate cases, frequently resort to blaming witnesses, display complacency in their duties, fail to complete investigations in a timely manner, and, most troublingly, make arrests without sufficient probable cause, among other concerns.
A Mistrial in a High-Profile Case
Adding to the gravity of the situation, the grand jury’s report followed a high-profile case involving a white father and son who were accused of chasing and shooting at a Black FedEx driver. The mistrial declared in this case sent shockwaves through the community. It was revealed that crucial evidence had been withheld by a Brookhaven police detective, leading to the mistrial. This case drew national attention and prompted comparisons to the infamous Ahmaud Arbery murder case in Georgia.
Harmening’s Comprehensive Review
William Harmening’s role as an independent investigator was pivotal in shedding light on the issues plaguing the Brookhaven Police Department. In his 32-page report, Harmening outlined a series of recommendations aimed at enhancing the department’s overall effectiveness and professionalism. His comprehensive evaluation included an examination of the department’s policies and procedures, as well as extensive discussions with key stakeholders, including Lee Bates, the district attorney for Lincoln, Pike, and Walthall counties, and various Brookhaven police officers, including Chief Kenneth Collins and his command staff.
However, Harmening noted in his report that access to certain critical items, such as personnel and investigative files, had been denied during his investigation.
Brookhaven Police Department in Need of Rebuilding
Harmening’s findings painted a sobering picture of the Brookhaven Police Department. He concluded that the department is in dire need of rebuilding, a process not uncommon for law enforcement agencies of similar size facing systemic challenges. Several key issues were identified, including:
- Severe Manpower Shortage: The department is grappling with a significant shortage of personnel, impacting its ability to effectively serve the community.
- Inefficient Command Structure: Harmening highlighted a confusing and inefficient command structure within the department, potentially hindering communication and coordination.
- Lack of Officer Training: A deficiency in officer training was identified, emphasizing the importance of ongoing professional development.
- Competency Issues in Investigations: One of the most critical issues identified was the competency of the investigations unit, which was deemed inadequate.
- Lack of Integration with Prosecutors: The department’s interactions with the two prosecutors’ offices it collaborates with were found to be lacking integration.
Harmening’s assessment underscored the challenges facing the department and called for a fresh start and a new vision to address these systemic issues.
Hiring and Disciplinary Practices at Brookhaven Police Department
The report by Harmening also scrutinized the department’s hiring practices. He noted that the department currently lacks a comprehensive and standardized hiring methodology. Background investigations were found to be inadequate, and contrary to their own policies, there is no polygraph examination or psychological assessment conducted during the hiring process. Shockingly, officers with criminal backgrounds, addictions to prescription drugs, and prior DUI convictions had been hired, which Harmening deemed wholly unacceptable within a law enforcement context.
The lack of quality hires can inevitably lead to short-term employment and a constant turnover of personnel, further straining the department’s effectiveness.
Immediate Attention to the Investigations Unit at Brookhaven Police Department
One of the most pressing issues highlighted in Harmening’s report was the need for immediate attention to the Investigations Unit. The mistrial in the prominent case involving the shooting of a Black FedEx driver served as a stark reminder of the deficiencies within the unit. Harmening’s assertion that the unit lacked “qualified and competent” investigative personnel was substantiated by the district attorney, Lee Bates.
Bates revealed to Harmening that he had encountered cases that were insufficiently investigated before being presented for prosecution. In some instances, he personally revisited crime scenes to discover crucial evidence that had been missed or overlooked by detectives. Moreover, obvious clues were sometimes neglected, and at least one police detective was deemed incapable of conducting a proper investigation.
Future Steps and Policy Updates for Brookhaven Police Department
While the Brookhaven Police Department faces significant challenges, the commitment to addressing these issues is evident. Mayor Joe Cox pledged to operate with transparency, efficiency, and professionalism in the department’s transformation. William Harmening’s recommendations for enhancing the department’s effectiveness and professionalism are set to guide future policy updates.
As the department embarks on this journey of revitalization, the focus will be on rebuilding the force, streamlining command structures, enhancing training, addressing competency issues, and fostering better integration with prosecutors’ offices. Brookhaven’s commitment to a brighter future for its police department reflects a dedication to justice,