Deputy chief says he’ll focus on relations with DA

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 30, 2001

[11/30/01]The new deputy chief for the Vicksburg Police Department said Thursday he will improve the relationship between police and the district attorney who prosecutes their felony suspects.

Richard Thomas O’Bannon took the oath before about 30 city employees and visitors at City Hall Annex. Although his duties here began Thursday, O’Bannon said he started becoming familiar with the department and officers earlier this week.

“I have hit the ground running,” O’Bannon said.

He said he spent part of the day Wednesday meeting with District Attorney Gil Martin and discussing problems Martin’s office has had with police files. The DA and grand jurors have pointed out a failure by police to turn in credible work. Martin has refused to accept some cases and had others dismissed because standard preparatory work was not done.

“There needs to be a better working relationship with the district attorney,” O’Bannon said. “That will be corrected.”

A 27-year veteran of the Biloxi Police Department, O’Bannon replaces former Police Chief Mitchell Dent and Deputy Chief Jack Dowe. Both have been returned to their previous ranks as captains.

O’Bannon had served eight years as the chief of investigations in Biloxi and as second-in-charge of the major crime unit there. He was brought to Vicksburg by Police Chief Tommy Moffett, who took over for Dent last month.

Dent had been chief for 19 months.

“We are in a situation where we need to bring the department to another level,” Moffett said. “And I can’t do it all by myself.”

Moffett had said that a new deputy chief from outside the department could help change the perception of favoritism within the department.

O’Bannon’s salary was set at $46,500 a year. Dent was being paid $41,000 a year as a deputy chief. Moffett is being paid $80,000.

“We have already seen a difference with just Chief Moffett on board,” said North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young.

In September, deputy chief positions that had been held by Janelle Lee and Frank Phelps were eliminated by the board, leaving the department with one deputy chief, Dowe. At that time, Lee and Phelps were returned to their previous ranks as lieutenants.

Before the promotions of Lee, Phelps and Dowe in April 2000, the department had operated with one deputy chief as it will again with O’Bannon.

Moffett has also cited an imbalance in the 108-officer department, saying about half the personnel are sergeants and above.

Leyens, who is also police commissioner, is reducing the size of the department to about 80 officers while offering the highest pay in the state. The department’s budget is $5.6 million per year.