Vicksburg Police Department is making efforts toward transparency

Published 10:32 am Friday, April 19, 2024

Like a lot of jobs that people often see portrayed in movies, there are a lot of misconceptions about reporters. It seems that a lot of people think all journalists are constantly on a mission to prove their local leaders are crooked, corrupt or just plain incompetent.

I mean, look: I loved “All the President’s Men” as much as the next person, and don’t get me wrong – I’ve done my fair share of reporting on officials that weren’t happy with my stories. But, that is far from the norm. Those stories are typically few and far between. 

In the vast majority of cases, local leadership, while not immune from mistakes, seems to genuinely have the community’s best interest at heart.

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The same is true, I have found, with law enforcement. I’ve been doing this job for a while now, and I’ve gotten to know a lot of officers, deputies, state troopers, and other law enforcement officials over the years in towns, counties, and parishes of various sizes and across four states. 

In my experience, the vast majority of them are good men and women who do a very dangerous job for a lot less pay than they deserve, and they actually care about the people they pledged themselves to serve and protect.

Which brings me to the Vicksburg Police Department and its recent town hall event. Now, I know that I am new to covering Vicksburg and I don’t presume to know everything that is going on, or that has gone on, yet. But, in contrast to what a lot of people think about those of us in the media, I tend to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt, to a certain extent. It is absolutely our job to keep a check on what those in power are up to, and I take the role of watchdog very seriously; however, that doesn’t mean going on a witch hunt.

I say all of that because my purpose for writing this column is to brag on our local police. It’s no secret they have a dangerous job, but what I’m not sure most people realize is just how scrutinized they are on a daily basis. There’s nothing wrong with holding people with important jobs to high standards. People criticize newspapers every day, too. And believe me when I say I’m good with that. I not only appreciate the input, but I’m glad I live in a community that cares enough to make sure its media – and its law enforcement – are doing the job the public trusts us and them to do.

This isn’t a column meant to make anyone feel bad about law enforcement being held to a high standard. What it is is a moment I wanted to take to shine a spotlight on the fact that Chief Penny Jones and her department are meeting those challenges head on. In the last few weeks, they’ve been making arrest reports available to the public and providing us at the newspaper with a barrage of information about arrests, investigations, and other things they are busy with in the community. This recent campaign of transparency was seemingly capped off Tuesday with a town hall meeting to give the public a window into the department, to talk about what is going well and what needs improvement, and to get input from the the people the police interact with daily.

Chief Jones and company talked about a wide variety of topics during the meeting, including scrutiny from the public, and I’ll let our story about the town hall recap the actual meeting for you, but I couldn’t help but be impressed that these changes from Vicksburg PD came not after a big incident or in the wake of some scandal, but as a proactive approach to improving the relationship between law enforcement and the community.

Whether it is us reporting on what is happening in town, or the police trying to solve cases, prevent crime and just otherwise keep us safe, it doesn’t happen without the community’s support and input. And that is something Chief Jones and her officers mentioned multiple times during Tuesday’s meeting. 

Now, I know arrest reports are public record and there are plenty of people that will argue that what the PD is doing should be done anyway, and those people aren’t wrong. All I’m saying is I have worked in plenty of communities where even things as simple as getting arrest reports or  answers to the most basic questions from the local police department was an uphill battle. Oftentimes, people with authority will take the position that the public will see and hear what he or she allows them to, and changing that can be a long row to hoe. That doesn’t seem to be the case here and I want to publicly applaud our police department for taking steps toward transparency and for opening a dialogue between themselves and the community.

Yes, police officers have power that has the potential to be abused, and when that happens, it’s a horrible thing that deserves harsh and swift punishment. But, they also have an incredibly important, stressful and vital job. It isn’t easy to do, so when I see a department actively trying to go above and beyond, I want to be the first to praise them and just say thank you.

Blake Bell is the general manager and executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at