The Mississippi Capitol Police, known for having shot four people since September, will soon be patrolling a large swath of Jackson, if the white-dominated state legislature and the state’s Republican governor get their way.
Capitol Police currently patrol the downtown area surrounding the state Capitol, but an amended bill nearing completion between the Mississippi House and Senate would expand their influence beyond the current Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID) boundaries. The latest version of the bill, amended by the Senate and now awaiting approval by the House, takes the additional step of automatically resolving any policing dispute between the expanded police force and the Jackson Police Department in favor of Capitol Police, if the city’s mayor fails to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety by July of this year.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba considers the bill an undemocratic throwback to Mississippi’s Jim Crow years, which restricted Black Mississippians from electing their own sheriffs and law enforcement leaders for most of the state’s existence. As such, Lumumba told reporters he has no plans to validate the bill with an MOU agreement.
Lumumba and critics warn the House bill amounts to a breakdown of democracy by far-flung white politicians targeting the city’s more than 80% Black population for disenfranchisement. The legislator who wrote HB 1020, Rep. Trey Lamar, doesn’t even live in Jackson, but resides in the distant town of Senatobia, 171 miles from the city.
The mayor argues in a functioning democracy an elected mayor and council are accountable to voters for police misconduct, since elected officials hire the police chief overseeing police and deputies, and police incompetence can sink a reelection campaign. Jackson residents do not get to pick who oversees the capitol police, however, and recent shootings by the CCID branch are revealing little inclination from the unit to communicate with the public.
Capitol Police’s current chief, Bo Luckey, answers only to Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell, who is appointed by the governor. But the city of Jackson did not support Gov. Reeves in the last election, with an overwhelming 77% of the city’s county preferring Democrat Jim Hood. Tindell, meanwhile, routinely refuses to talk to reporters about capitol police-related violence beyond admitting none of his officers have been fired or disciplined over recent injuries and killings. Tindall instead blames the shootings on an increasingly aggressive criminal element, and “a more proactive approach by Capitol Police officers ...”
“Any time there's a loss of life, it's tragic. But we can't be deterred in trying to make this city safe and doing the policing the way it's supposed to be done …,” Tindall told WAPT News. He also characterizes the shootings as “basic law enforcement”—as if gunfire is just part of the process.
Officers shot Jackson 25-year-old resident Jaylen Lewis last September for running a red light and fleeing. His mother, Atlanta resident Arkela Lewis, was still waiting for answers the following March. Like Arkela Lewis, the public does not have any meaningful details surrounding the shooting because the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (MBI) is still conducting an inquiry of the incident and has yet to present its findings to the Attorney General’s Office.
"Such incidents require a thorough investigation, scrutiny and transparency. Therefore, any releasable information regarding this incident will be made public by the Department of Public Safety at the appropriate time," Tindall toldreporters.
But until the report is released, transparency is lacking. As of March 24, the Office of Attorney General Lynn Fitch said it does not comment on open cases. The Mississippi Department of Public Safety also confirmed the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation has not completed the incident investigation in the last six months, and did not offer a deadline. Mississippi Department of Public Safety media officer Bailey Martin told Black Girl Times “the case involving Jaylen Lewis remains open,” and “due to it being an ongoing investigation, no further comment will be made.”
In the absence of an official report or comment, however, all that can be known is that the police who killed Lewis were part of a plainclothes street crime unit that sometimes drives unmarked cars, and that fleeing the unit can automatically result in a death sentence.
Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey told The Northside Sun last year the purpose of the unit, called the "Flex Unit," was to get “boots on the ground and proactively policing." But Luckey’s emblematic “proactive boot” style is earning his crew the name “Bo and the Jump Out Boys” among his detractors. And their lack of oversight is steaming city residents who don’t know what to expect from the unit’s methods and practices. The department has not updated its own use-of-force policy since 2006, and it is miserly about sharing such information with the public.
After persistent pressure, Tindall promised this month that Capitol Police will eventually adopt a use-of-force policy that reflects modern policing standards. It allegedly includes some restrictions of the use of dangerous chokeholds, but the details of the upcoming policy are just as foggy as the old policy. And, whew, is that old policy full of fog.
Introducing the Capitol Police's wildly informative use-of-force policy. (Page 241-242)
There’s no guarantee officers will even follow an updated policy, considering how easily they skirt current purported restrictions on things like vehicular pursuits. The department’s existing policy claims vehicular pursuits “present an unacceptable danger to the lives of the public, officers, and suspects involved,” and it goes on to claim that “Vehicular pursuits by State Capitol Police Officers are prohibited,” in blaring underlined text. However, the department waters down its own directive with wishy-washy language that leaves the final decision up to the individual officer and however much coffee he drank that night. The policy asks officers to run their urge to give chase through an obscure “pursuit decision matrix” before stomping their gas pedal. Then they made sure to thoroughly redact the decision matrix from public view.
Behold! The black void that is a "Decision Matrix." Courtesy of NBC News.
Lumumba is impatient with all the secrets and said at a recent press conference that the absence of accountability is one very clear reason he is leery of expanding Capitol Police influence. He added that their absence of accountability also extends to the media’s kid gloves treatment of the unit.
“I know of several residents who have called my office dealing with matters of the Capital Complex Police, and it has been radio silence from the media on these matters,” Lumumba said. “People have been killed and there has been absolutely no effort to investigate. That is one of our issues with the capitol complex police (CCIP). The problem with expansion is that we need accountability.”
The mayor complained that holding the city of Jackson accountable “is what makes our city safer,” and warned this same standard must also be held for “all police departments that have jurisdiction in our city,” and that the media have abdicated their responsibility with the Capitol Police unit.