Bar Room Brawl Has Some Questioning Need For "Off Duty Policy" - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

05/20/03

Bar Room Brawl Has Some Questioning Need For "Off Duty Policy"

There's some new information out about a bar-room brawl in Bay St. Louis involving off duty police officers.

At least one of the citizens involved in Saturday night's fight had been previously arrested by one of the officers. A similar bar fight happened in Waveland last June.

At one time, Bay St. Louis police had a policy against officers going to bars and nightclubs in town to prevent such confrontations WLOX NEWS asked law enforcers if such a policy is needed again.

Restaurants and lounges in downtown Bay St. Louis enjoy a brisk business during day light, but at night, especially on weekends, these night spots really come to life with locals. The question is should off duty police officers frequent these establishments?

Bay St. Louis Police Chief Frank McNeil, says let them make up their own minds.

"An off duty police officer is the same as any off duty civilian. He has legal rights to do the same thing that a civilian has the right to do."

Chief McNeil says for the safety of the police he discourages his officers from going out locally because of potential trouble with people the officers have arrested in the past. But he also says he can't force them to go out of town.

"I don't know if I can tell my police officers, without a policy in place prior to being hired, you can not go here and you can't go there. Now if it pertains to going to a place where there is illegal activity taking place, that's a different situation."

Hancock County Sheriff Steve Garber agrees.

"Our policy is that they maintain good moral personalities and conduct themselves morally, whether they are on or off duty."

Garber says when you mix alcohol with a person out for revenge against an officer, you have a recipe for trouble.

But Waveland's Mayor Tommy Longo says those incidents can happen anywhere.

"I get accosted almost every time I go out with my family to eat, so where do you draw the line?"

Chief McNeil echoed the mayor's words.

"It can happen at a restaurant, a grocery store. You're bound, in a small town especially, to run into people you've arrested or had contact with in your official capacity."

Chief McNeil hasn't released the names of the officers and won't confirm if any charges will be filed.

by Al Showers

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