Meridian, Miss. Crime is not the only issue officers at the Meridian Police Department say they are dealing with these days.
Three months ago, Chief James Lee was hired to lead the department in its ongoing fight against crime. But since then, some officers claim that morale within the department has dropped.
All was well inside of Chief James Lee's conference room as he met with members of his DART Team. However, some officers within the Meridian Police Department have contacted Newscenter 11 to discuss ongoing problems they say they are having with the chief. The officers asked that we protect their identities.
"Chief Lee talks to his men disgracefully, using profane language," Officer #1 says. "Talking to them like dogs."
"Police officers are human beings too," Officer #2 says. "And when you beat them down and get them to where they don't want to even come to work, it does affect their job performance."
Newscenter 11 posed this question to Lee: "First of all, how your officers are treated, how you treat them, and how you speak to them. There are concerns that have been raised that you talk down to them, you belittle them."
"Ah, I don't even think that's worth answering because the police world is full of testosterone," Chief Lee says. "This room right here has enough testosterone to float a battle ship. We are not insurance agents. We are not painters. We are police officers. And getting them to do their job every day is important. Understanding what their jobs is is even more important. We're tasked with protecting this city."
After Newscenter 11 questioned Lee, DART Team officer Chris Read said he has not encountered any such problems with the chief.
"He directs us to do a job, we do a job," Read says. "He's not running a daycare center. It's not his position to please everybody all of the time. And reality is, if you're not satisfied with your job, then you can find a job elsewhere."
Some officers we spoke to say the way they are spoken to is only the tip of the iceberg. Some officers tell us they fear for their jobs.
"And that's how it is day for day around there," Officer #1 says. "If you don't do what Chief Lee wants you to do, you get threatened with either being suspended, fired, or no promotion."
"You go in, you're getting threatened," Officer #2 says. "There's always things being told in briefing that if you don't do this, don't do that, you're going to get suspended. You're going to get written up. It just makes you where you go out on the street, you're not really excited about your job."
"Everything here is civil service," Chief Lee says. "You can't fire anybody for non-cause."
Chief Administrative Officer Curt Goldacker says on behalf of the mayor's office, Chief Lee is experienced, authoritative, and knows what he's doing.
"He has the experience, he has the background," Goldacker says. "And when he came in here, he was given a specific job to do. To take this police department and make it the best police department possible. Get the manpower up, make sure they are trained, and to protect and serve. He has set the example. He came and said, you are a police officer first, you're a police officer last."
With the DART Team still gathered in the conference room after Newscenter 11 interviewed Lee, the chief took a moment to gather reaction from everyone in the room.
"Anybody in here feeling mistreated?" Lee asked. (Officers: No sir!) "Anybody feel like they are being talked to bad?" (Officers: No sir!) "Sure?" (Officers: Yes Sir!)
Chief Lee says he has increased the manpower from 94 officers to 100 officers since he became chief. He is hoping to be able to hire another 10 officers.