Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam and the Bay St. Louis City Council gathered Thursday to discuss the possible consolidation of the Bay St. Louis Police Department with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office.
Before the workshop began, council President Lonnie Falgout said that as of Thursday the final report from the Department of Justice on the city’s forfeiture account had not yet been released.
Adam said there would need to be a one year contract at a minimum, if the city decided to enter into a contract with the sheriff’s office.
There is six months left on the current administration and council’s term, Councilman Joey Boudin said.
Questions about surveillance
Adam told the council that his office has about 12 and the cameras are voice-and light-activated.
“If they’re wearing them, they better be on,” Adam said.
Adam said his officers also utilize a trip sheet and told Boudin that back in November, some shifts had four and some had five officers on duty. Adam said there are 18 full-time patrolmen and four part-time in Bay St. Louis.
Councilman Doug Seal said the city has two shifts with four officers and two shifts with five.
Adam said there are some tracking devices installed on the sheriff’s office vehicles.
Boudin said he had discussed the topic several times with late police Chief Michael De Nardo. There were reports about Bay St. Louis police vehicles speeding without blue lights, he said.
“We have a lot of issues, but we don’t have any way to go back and track them,” Boudin said.
Seal said a tracking device would be a positive aspect, he said.
Asked if the sheriff would keep the body cameras the officers currently use, Adam said, “Yes, that’s your equipment. You are going to keep your equipment, my guys are going to wear it.”
Will City Council hold off on decision?
Seal asked if the offer would still be on the table were the council to delay a vote until after elections.
“We’ll be here,” Adam said. “It’s to the point now where we have to make a decision one way or the other. It’s not fair to anybody to just be up here every month discussing this.”
Seal said April 1 is the council’s deadline to enter into contractual agreements. He said his preference would be to appoint an interim chief for the next few months.
The contract would also need to be approved by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Adam said.
How the city could save money
Council Vice-President Mike Favre said the council would have a supplemental agreement so the city’s current officers could stay with the same pay scale.
With supplemental pay and five officers per shift, Favre said, the city could potentially save about $300,000.
Adam said he believed he could do just as good a job with four per shift. The savings could hen be about $400,000, Favre said.
Adam said that time sheets would be handled by his office.
Seal said one thing stated during a meeting was that Bay St. Louis would not be a priority to the sheriff’s office.
“That’s a myth and I don’t know who dreamed that up. But you pay for what you get and you get what you pay for. When I tell you there’s going to be four people, there’s going to be four people here,” Adam said. “You’re still in Bay St. Louis cars, Bay St. Louis equipment and the guys stay here in Bay St. Louis.”
A split City Council
Councilman Bobby Compretta said consolidation is too big a decision to make now and that he’s not for it. He also said the council needs more public input and to hold more public hearings on the matter.
Boudin said he spoke to some of his Ward 5 constituents who he said told them to do what he thought best.
“All I see is pros, I see a substantial cost-savings to the taxpayer, I see an increase in investigators, I think it’s a win-win,” Boudin said. “I can’t see not doing it. We have a lot of problems.”
Favre said this year the city proposed a tax increase to pay for additional fire and police services and he said no one spoke in favor of the proposal.
He also said the officers deserve somebody in the police department and that the council needs to set a date and make their minds up.
Falgout said the decision is the council being fiscally responsible, but the “guys in blue that work for the city of Bay St. Louis have been through hell and high water this past year,” from the missing DOJ money to a “ dead police chief that took a lot of things with him and we may never have the answers.”
Falgout said the council owes it to officers to make the decision right away and establish leadership at the police department.
Reed said the residents he spoke with had also told him to do what’s best.
“They said they don’t feel safe at this moment because of what’s all in the air,” Reed said.
After the council’s discussion with Adam, Falgout opened the floor for public input.
Bay St. Louis resident Ron Thorp said the council has three choices: Keep the status quo, with Adam running the police department as he is now, until the election; hire a police chief and keep the police department as it is; or have the sheriff contracted to the council.
Jim Le Marquez, who said he is deciding which Mississippi Gulf Coast town to move back to, said there needs to be one command person and command authority. He said he is interested in the decision the council makes, as it will affect his decision about where he settles.
‘I would be laid off’
Bay St. Louis police officer Kyle Craig spoke to council from a homeowner and officer’s perspective.
He asked the council how this move would save him money as a taxpayer.
Boudin said it could lower taxes and Favre said that would be up to the next council to decide during the next budget talks.
Craig asked if the city would lose Bay St. Louis police officers.
Seal said the sheriff said he would interview employees and “hire the employees that were best suited to do the job.”
“As a taxpayer, it sounds like you’re guaranteeing me a loss in services and loss of manpower in the Bay St. Louis Police Department,” Craig said. “But you can’t guarantee me to lower my taxes. As a taxpayer, that’s kind of a roll of the dice for me. Doesn’t sound great for me as an officer, the last one in hired, even though I’m a very experienced officer. For my perspective, this doesn’t look like a good deal.”
Bay St. Louis resident David Mayley said the prime job of the council is to provide the ultimate protection of the citizens and that job should not be compromised.
“No matter how you slice or dice this plan,” he said, “there’s going to be less officers in the department.”
Favre said cuts have been made to the police department in recent years, “way less than what we’re proposing now.”