Moss Point police actively work to recruit more officers amid a severe staffing crisis

Published: Jul. 8, 2022 at 8:51 PM CDT
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MOSS POINT, Miss. (WLOX) - Saturday brings another step in reinforcing the Moss Point Police force. The department will give written and physical tests to a handful of people who want to fill the dozen vacancies in the police department.

There’s been exodus of officers. WLOX submitted a public records request to learn the scope of the problem and why so many officers are leaving.

Moss Point Police are recruiting help from the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and even retired officers to fill the personnel gaps. But why the rash of resignations? City documents point to rumored terminations, low pay and a lack of incentives.

“It’s a real safety issue not only for the citizens, it’s a safety issue for the policemen,” Moss Point mayor Billy Knight said. “It’s not safe for them to be out there without backup. When they call for backup, they need to know somebody is coming.”

“It’s to the point where I’m working a patrol shift as the chief,” Moss Point Police Chief Brandon Ashley said. “I’m trying to do whatever it takes. It’s a dangerous community and we’re working to try to resolve that, but I need resources.”

Through a Freedom of Information Request, we’re learning Police Chief Brandon Ashley was sounding an alarm to Mayor Billy Knight as early as March asking to boost the department’s roster to 32 from the 29 currently budgeted. The chief said that’s what it would take to match police departments in cities of similar size.

This year, the department’s numbers have dwindled from 28 to just 17 sworn officers. With 12 vacancies, we asked why officers are leaving, even with approved pay raises.

“Some people could be leaving because they don’t feel safe, or they think they are working too hard or that they don’t have enough staff or they don’t have enough backup,” Mayor Knight said. “Yes, they could be leaving for that, and that’s what some of them told me. So that’s why I had the interviews to find out.”

Mayor Knight tells us he met with six officers who voiced various concerns.

“Sometimes, it’s about leadership, the environment, how they’ve been treated so it’s a lot that goes into why people leave and every one of them told me something different,” Mayor Knight said. “It wasn’t all about money.”

Emails between the mayor and chief show signs of a deeper problem - officers worried the mayor was about to fire the chief.

“It puts me in a position where it’s hard to recruit when they hear ‘hey, that chief may not be there that much longer,’” Chief Ashley said.

We asked the mayor if he’s looking to replace Ashley, Knight said he’s still evaluating the Chief’s performance.

“Can he do his job? I’m observing that,” Mayor Knight said. “It will be determined at some point, whether I have enough confidence to say yeah you can do your job.”

The mayor’s doubt coupled with a dwindling force creates uncertainty for the chief and the entire department.

“He’s told me that,” Chief Ashley said. “That he’s evaluating me daily and it just kind of fuels this doubt and the officers see that.”

Alderman boosted police pay in June in an effort to keep the officers they have and try to attract new hires. Now, city leaders are exploring incentives to keep officers on the job.

“We can start a step plan, but let’s not kid ourselves - if you can’t fund it the next year, what good did it do?” Mayor Knight asked. “So we can talk about a step plan, and we’ll talk about it but when I sign off on it, it means it’s permanent.”

“We need to do something to try to retain what we have and continue to incentivize to hire people,” Chief Ashley said.

City leaders say they won’t compromise on gaining experienced officers. On Saturday, more than 5 candidates are expected to take physical and written tests. Chief Ashley says 2 of those candidates come with prior law enforcement work under their belts.

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