Personnel change to help win back trust, officer says

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 31, 2001

[07/29/01] Changes made in the Vicksburg Police Department Internal Affairs Division will help the force regain public trust, the newly appointed head said.

“Police officers reflect on this city, and if they break the rules they have to be held accountable,” said Lt. Chip Denman, an eight-year veteran of the force.

But, Denman said, he doesn’t want Internal Affairs, the unit that polices the police, to prohibit officers from doing their jobs.

“The officers have to feel free enough to do their jobs without worrying about every little thing,” Denman said. “The process in Internal Affairs has to be 100 percent fair.”

Recent transfers that left Denman the sole member of Internal Affairs weren’t made because of concerns with other officers in the unit, Mayor Laurence Leyens said.

“We wanted a clean start,” he said.

On July 11, Police Chief Mitchell Dent announced changes in the department that included moving the former head of Internal Affairs, Lt. Linda Hearn, to the Training Division.

Also, Sgt. Jimmy Sweet was moved from Internal Affairs to the Juvenile Division, and Patrolman Virdell Lewis was moved to the Detective Division.

Sweet, a 15-year-veteran, has been embroiled in controversy including a promotion granted after he was allowed to take a promotional exam twice and being publicly named as a suspect in a 1994 arson fire that damaged offices of the Narcotics Bureau in the former public library building on Monroe Street. He was never charged.

Leyens said the fact that Denman understands the culture of the police department is a bonus, but that additional staff added to the division will not come from inside the city police force.

“We are going to get people from outside who are not immersed in the department here,” he said.

Leyens said that until the unit is expanded, the state police will assist Denman when he needs it.

Denman, whose job since October had been enforcing zoning and building permit laws as head of Code Enforcement, said officers who step out of line will be handled swiftly and severely.

“Police officers reflect on this city and if they break the rules they have to be held accountable,” he said.

The biggest problem in Internal Affairs previously was confidentiality in complaints about officers, Leyens said.

“I don’t think we were following professional protocol in what Internal Affairs should be doing,” he said. “I am very serious about making this a top-notch department like it should be.”

Although Denman couldn’t discuss specifics, he said he has received 14 complaints on police officers since he took over the unit 14 days ago.

The most frequent, he said, deals with the demeanor of officers. “We can be our own worst enemies if we get out in public and forget our position,” Denman said.

The 40-year-old officer, who once headed up the department’s Neighborhood Enhancement Team, said he considers Internal Affairs an extension of community policing.

“We as police officers have an awesome responsibility and we have to live up to that,” he said. “We have to treat other people the way we want to be treated.”