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Police department in holding pattern

By Staff
Sept. 2, 2001
If talk around town is any indication, there is growing frustration over the amount of time that is passing as a couple of issues fail to come to any resolution at the Meridian Police Department. Worse yet, delays are leading to rampant rumors, most of which you will not find reported in this column.
Here's a look at a few things that are happening and not happening at the cop shop.
Alleged MPD thefts:
The end is in sight
Late Friday afternoon, Acting Chief Benny DuBose was on his way to City Hall. Mayor John Robert Smith had approved his recommendations on what to do about alleged thefts of cash and checks at the police department's front desk.
The thefts allegedly occurred between February and May 2001. An Internal Affairs investigation focused on the actions of two employees, a civilian worker and a police officer. Both employees were suspended shortly after Memorial Day.
In early July, DuBose said he hoped to complete the investigation within two weeks but met with a pair of delays caused by an attorney's out-of-town trip and follow-up questions he had about the Internal Affairs report.
DuBose submitted his recommendations to the mayor on Aug. 24. The mayor put it through his procedural paces, and authorized DuBose to proceed a week later.
Public disclosure, however, is still a ways off.
Consulting my calendar, then, the deadline to change DuBose's mind is Friday, Sept. 7. If there are no further problems, we should hear something a couple days later.
Keep in mind that the Internal Affairs investigation affects only employment status; the worst thing that can happen is termination.
The second phase, a criminal investigation, is still in progress under MPD Capt. Betty Evans' supervision. That investigation could result in criminal charges and presentation of the case to a Lauderdale County grand jury in November.
Information gap has
unforeseen results
The mayor's lack of urgency in appointing a new police chief, and unwillingness to describe the selection process, is creating the impression that he is hesitant about the leading contender Benny DuBose.
Former Chief Gregg Lewis' retirement took effect July 20, although he had been out of the office for a while by that time. DuBose has said publicly that he will accept the position if it's offered.
Questions about the selection process meet with polite refusals to comment. This is an unusual reaction from a city administration usually eager to explain "processes" in detail.
If the mayor and his advisers are conducting a search, they need to talk about it. That way, if DuBose is appointed, they can say, "We told you we were conducting an extensive regional search, interviewing a number of highly qualified candidates. When it was all over, Benny DuBose was clearly the right man for the job."
Your appointee looks like a million dollars.
Right or wrong, the delay and information gap are making it look like the mayor wishes he had another candidate. The announcement, if it comes, runs the danger of being perceived as lukewarm.
It's poor public relations, especially when you consider the importance of a police chief in small town life, and it is giving birth to rumors that other officers are jockeying for the position.
DuBose declines to comment.
I do have one small piece of information. Here it is. Mayor Smith says he hopes to appoint a new chief by mid- to late September.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail her at smonk@themeridianstar.com.

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