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Moss Point working to remedy problems with police department's evidence room

The Mississippi Press,
BYLINE: April M. Havens, The Mississippi Press
Link to Article

Moss Point, MS

2012-01-04_Moss Point working to remedy problems with police department_01
Keith Davis, Moss Point police chief

MOSS POINT, Mississippi -- City aldermen's first meeting of 2012 was contentious and chaotic at times, but the board ultimately took multiple actions, several affecting the police department.

Aldermen agreed to hire Tarsha Johnson-Watts as a part-time evidence technician after Chief Keith Davis told them the department's evidence room "is in shambles."

The room contains evidence that should have been properly destroyed long ago, he said, "and the problem has compounded."

The board also agreed to hire George Chaix on a contractual basis for assessing, purging, cleaning and organizing the room based on International Association of Property and Evidence standards. Chaix will be paid a flat rate of $1,000.

The hiring decisions came only after heated debates over previously fired employees and whether the chief should be able to hire part-time workers who are not entitled to protection under the Civil Service Commission.

Alderman Tommy Hightower was in favor of both hirings.

"The more personnel we put over there, the quicker this (problem) goes away," he said of the evidence room.

Aldermen also later agreed to allow Davis to apply for a $6,400 equipment grant, but after Alderman Sherwood Bradford learned the grant had a 25 perfect match, he criticized the chief for "constantly" changing his budget.

Bickering among aldermen had some audience members shaking their heads and others laughing.

At one point, Mayor Aneice Liddell refused to carry a motion by Bradford, and Alderwoman Shirley Chambers quickly told her she was "breaking the law."

Also at Tuesday's meeting, aldermen:

* Agreed to let Thompson Engineering apply for a Mississippi Department of Transportation grant that could connect the city's sidewalks and bring a 3.5-mile loop to downtown. It would also include an observation deck for birding enthusiasts.
* Accepted the resignation of police dispatcher Hope Merrill.
* Hired Stephen Furney to replace Merrill as dispatcher.
* Voted to require demolition of a home at 4430 Elder St. The owner must clean the property by Feb. 1.
* Set a minimum payment on old city court fines at $25.
* Agreed to use tidelands funds on riverfront projects, such as public restrooms and bulkhead repairs.

After the meeting, Liddell confirmed the police department will be getting a new station.

City leaders learned last month that the Mississippi Development Authority will allow them to consolidate multiple funding sources to build a new police department outside the flood zone.

The city will use $1.5 million in surplus funds from a Hurricane Katrina supplemental grant, $389,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other Hurricane Katrina-related insurance funds to build a new complex outside the flood zone at the old Bellview Shopping Center.

The need for a new station is high, Davis said.

"The citizens of Moss Point deserve a public safety facility they can be proud of ... and so do the employees," he said. "The building we're in now was a refurbished building from a refurbished building, and it just doesn't work for law enforcement."

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