Police chief: Requiring accreditation for Miss. law enforcement agencies could reduce racial bias, deadly force

Less than one in ten departments statewide are accredited.
Updated: Jun. 8, 2020 at 9:55 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While some are calling for police departments in major cities to be disbanded following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop, 3 On Your Side has learned most agencies in the Jackson metro already have procedures in place to protect the community and law enforcement further because they’re accredited by the state.

A recent advocacy campaign on social media states agencies should do more, though.

The “8 Can’t Wait” campaign says more restrictive use of force policies can save lives.

These include banning choke holds, requiring a verbal warning before shooting, banning the shooting of moving vehicles and requiring other officers to intervene if they see excessive force.

“There’s over 300 agencies. Less than 30 have gone through this process to say ‘we are going to have policy in place to say no choke holds or neck restraints,’” Byram Police Chief Luke Thompson said. “'We’re not going to shoot at a moving vehicle. We are gonna have up-to-date use of force policies.' All of those are standards defined in accreditation programs."

Thompson said law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to keep bad officers out of the department, too, through stringent hiring practices.

“When we hire an individual to carry a gun, to wear a badge, to be in a position of authority, a position of authority granted by the Legislature, to use force and make arrests, we have to do everything in our power as chief executives and as command staff of local law enforcement to make sure that those people are vetted to the utmost degree.”

Only 28 agencies across Mississippi -- including the Jackson Police Department -- are accredited at the state level.

In the Jackson metro, three cities -- Pearl, Richland and Flowood, plus the sheriff’s departments for Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties -- are not accredited by the state.

Part of the reason for that could be the process itself: accreditation remains voluntary in Mississippi.

Thompson said city governments and legislators have the power to change that.

“I think we owe it to our communities to make sure that something positive comes out of all of this. I think you’ll see whatever the individual communities spell out in expectations. The City of Byram’s going to tell me what they expect of me and my police department, and I’m gonna do my best to serve them and meet those expectations," Thompson said.

Those expectations aren’t just for law enforcement agencies, Thompson said, because officers can only enforce the laws that state legislators create.

Furthermore, accreditation doesn’t completely prevent deadly force.

Since 2017, JPD officers shot and killed more than half a dozen people -- primarily African-Americans -- in officer-involved shootings.

While officers were terminated in at least one case -- notably the death of Mario Clark last year -- not one officer involved in an on-duty killing has been convicted.

Over the last three days, thousands protesting in Jackson have echoed the need for greater police reform and an end to racial discrimination, fueled by Floyd’s killing and the recent dismissal of an indictment against a white former cop for killing Ricky Ball, a black man, in Columbus.

“This situation has opened a wound that has never really been given an opportunity to truly heal. Now’s our opportunity to do that. what that looks like, I’m not exactly sure, but I think we’re primed for the discussions to start. And we can start taking some pretty immediate actions," Thompson said.

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