In the midst of renewed conversations about law enforcement and its relationship with the community – particularly following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and subsequent protests – Hattiesburg officials have pondered ways to take advantages of opportunities to further enhance the ability to foster additional trust, transparency and communication between Hattiesburg Police Department and the city’s residents.
To help accomplish that, HPD Chief Anthony Parker recently brought forth the idea of a police review board that would be made up of a panel of Hattiesburg residents who would learn aspects of the training, standards and procedures of the city’s police department. That group would then review and evaluate critical messages to help strengthen the bond between police and citizens.
“This is not simply in actions taken, but in understanding the everyday life-and-death situations which often confront our officers,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “This would exist separately from the Civil Service Commission and the Police Advisory Board, as much as authority will allow us by state statute and city ordinance.
“Make no mistake: the administration and the (Hattiesburg) City Council stand firmly in support of our men and women who are charged with protecting and serving our community. However … we all recognize that it is possible to simultaneously love, support and encourage our police officers while also pushing the collective department to embrace new measures of engaging and protecting the public.”
The review board would consist of a panel of citizens representative of the Hattiesburg community, including those who are trained in police policies and procedures. Over the past several weeks, city officials have reached out to several members of the community, seeking input from retired law enforcement officers, the faith-based community, business leaders and civil rights leaders, including members of the NAACP.
The board particularly would review specific critical incidents, such as a officer-involved incidents that involve false arrests, false imprisonment, harassment, excessive use of force, serious bodily injury, or death.
“The purpose of a review board, often times, has intangible but very direct impact on the community,” said Ann Jones, who serves as the city’s chief administrative officer. “It provides strength in the departments – use of best practices – but they also foster further trust and transparency between the community and the police department.
“So when you look at the board and its actual structure, it’s recommended that they’re more effective and efficient towards a seven to 11 (member) organization. Representation, in our case, would come from all five wards, so that there’s diversity in the representation based off of race, age, and gender.”
Officials will be looking for members who are residents of Hattiesburg, have life experience and are well-known and respected in the community. Members also must be critical thinkers, display character and integrity, have good communication skills and be free of political influence.
“It’ll be important that they know how our state laws impact their views and their decision-making process,” Jones said. “And they have to be able to uphold, to a certain degree, a high level of confidentiality, as many of the issues that will come before this review board would become sensitive.
“I think that we actually still have several folks that we would like to get input from. I would hope that in the very near future, we’re back with (council members) to provide an instrument for you to review and to continue that process.”
Barker said the review board would be different from the Civil Service Commission in that the commission only deals with personnel matters. For example, if disciplinary action were to be taken, the accused could appeal that charge to the commission.
“The civil service also handles promotional testing, and approving to start another academy,” he said. “This (review board) would be in specific actions taken."