Iron Chief: The JFP Interview with Police Chief Lindsey Horton | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Iron Chief: The JFP Interview with Police Chief Lindsey Horton

The Jackson City Council confirmed 29-year police department veteran Lindsey Horton as the capital city’s new top cop on July 18, 2013.

The Jackson City Council confirmed 29-year police department veteran Lindsey Horton as the capital city’s new top cop on July 18, 2013. Photo by Trip Burns

Lindsey Horton

Age: 61

Relationship Status: Married (LaaWandaa), no children

Education: B.A., Criminal Justice (1976), Urban Studies (2001), Jackson State University

Experience: Chief, Jackson Police Department; 29 total years with JPD

Just before dawn on the morning of July 12, a homeowner in the Lakeover subdivision of northwest Jackson crept out onto his front porch and fired five shots into his own car.

The only person occupying the vehicle was 20-year-old Quardious Thomas, who later died at a local hospital. At the time, Jackson police officials said that the homeowner, whose name has not been made public, would not be charged with a crime, citing Mississippi's Castle Doctrine. Part of Mississippi's justifiable homicide statute, the Castle Doctrine outlines circumstances under which individuals may use deadly force to protect their home, automobile or body.

Chief Lindsey Horton, who at the time of Thomas' shooting was interim police chief and awaiting confirmation from the Jackson City Council, says the homeowner told police that he feared Thomas had a gun.

"It was in the early morning, still under the cover of darkness, and he couldn't see very well. He did what he felt he needed to do," Horton told the Jackson Free Press. "He protected himself, he protected his property and, of course, his home, and he has every right to do that."

A Jackson native, Horton, 61, has spent 29 years working his way up through the Jackson Police Department's chain of command, including 11 years as a deputy chief. Horton said the officer who responded to the call on Tanglewood Cove, along with the officer's supervisor who arrived later, decided not to arrest the homeowner. Some Jackson legal experts disagree with JPD's official position on the 
shooting, however.

At a forum organized that the Mississippi NAACP Magnolia Bar Association and A. Phillip Randolph Institute held Aug. 1, some participants drew parallels between what they called ambiguities in the law that led to Thomas' death and the Florida doctrine that made headlines after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin's death last year. Martin's shooter, neighborhood volunteer George Zimmerman, was not initially charged with a crime because police said Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which is similar to Mississippi's Castle Doctrine, justified 
Martin's killing.

"A killing of any sort is homicide. The question becomes whether it's justifiable ... Police agencies are making the determination, and I submit that's the wrong agency," attorney Malcolm Harrison said at the NAACP's Know Your Rights Forum.

Horton acknowledged that many laws his agency must enforce contain a lot of gray area, and expressed frustration that the Legislature often declines to gather input from JPD, the state's largest municipal force, when it crafts laws aimed at 
public safety.

Horton recently spoke with the JFP bout the Thomas shooting, the state's new open-carry law, and boosting morale and rooting out corruption in the Jackson Police Department.

In the incident a few weeks ago, where a homeowner shot a young man, what was the thinking that went into not arresting or charging the homeowner?

I don't know what the homeowner was thinking. As he expressed, he was afraid that the individual that's in the process of burglarizing his vehicle was armed. It was in the early morning, still under the cover of darkness, and he couldn't see very well. He did what he felt he needed to do: He protected himself, he protected his property and, of course, his home, and he has every right to do that. We made a decision—the officer at the time made the decision—not to arrest him and, so far during the investigation, there has not been any reason to arrest him. That's our position.

So the decision was made by the officer on the scene?

No, the officer made the decision and, when the supervisor arrived on the scene, it was a collective decision. It still stands to this day.

Are there ongoing public education efforts to clarify some of the ambiguity in the law?

There needs to be more education. I'm not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV. There are the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government. Our job is to enforce existing laws, and we don't have the autonomy to determine which laws to enforce. If I had a seat at the table—as I understand that wasn't the case with this open-carry bill that was enacted—a lot of what we're dealing with now would have been dealt with then.

The same goes for the so-called Castle Doctrine. I don't remember anybody asking us, (and) we represent the capital city of the state of Mississippi. You would think (legislators) would reach out and want to know what we felt about some of this before they moved forward with that legislation. But that did not happen.

So, yes, more education is needed. No, you cannot arbitrarily shoot someone just because they're walking across your grass. Every case is going to be handled on a case-by-case basis and on its own merits. That's the frightening part of this. People think differently, and what constitutes fear for one person may not be for another. ... That's why you have courts and judges. It's tough, and citizens have no idea what it's like for officers to have to make an instantaneous decision.

Right now it's in flux, but how are you directing your officers to enforce the new open-carry law?

We have no reason to enforce it because it's not in place, yet. We are really concerned, though. We are concerned when and if it does go into effect, it's going to cause us to police differently. A lot of officers are concerned. We are accustomed to (going) on a scene (where there is only) one gun there—that's ours. I cringe at the thought of arriving at any kind of altercation, and everybody there has a weapon and, in some cases, a higher caliber than mine. I can see that causing us some problems, and we're going to have to modify how we approach policing in the city of Jackson.

But people can open carry now.

Oh yes, but you have people who are going to strap them on just to look like the Old West.

How closely are you keeping an eye on problems at the Raymond Detention Center? Have the problems forced you to rethink policing strategies?

It's our intent to continue to arrest people that need to be arrested. If they are a menace to society, they're committing crimes, then it is our intent to remove them from society to try to modify their behavior. If locking them up will do that, then that's what we're going to do. It's incumbent on not only Sheriff (Tyrone) Lewis, but on the other 81 sheriffs in the state of Mississippi—it's their job to be responsible for any prisoner or inmate in their county. There are times that they're at full capacity, and they work very hard to accommodate us. They recognize that Jackson is the largest municipality in Hinds County and, as such, we have more inmates than Clinton, Bolton, Edwards, Terry and all the other (municipalities).

So, no, it has not had an impact on how we police. We're going to continue to do what we need to do. You'll hear me use "Pookie" and "Ray-Ray." Those are names of endearment that I use to reflect those that are hell-bent on being a menace to society. So if Pookie is intent on being Pookie, we're going to transport Pookie to Shelby County, Tennessee, to lock him up (if necessary).

What's happening in Hinds County's Raymond Detention Center has no impact on how we do our jobs. We're going to find someplace for Pookie. They should not take any comfort in thinking that Raymond is booked or full. We will always find someplace that would accommodate them.

Does Jackson need its own jail? There has been some talk about that by members of the Jackson City Council and Hinds County Board of Supervisors.

I don't know that we need our own jail, but we obviously need something that's more workable than what we have now.

We have our challenges. I would love to send out a memo to all thugs and criminals and ask them to give us some relief. I don't think that would work. I think something does need to be done—whether it's privatizing the existing system (or) building another one. Whatever it takes, it's going to take a while to get it done. If the board of supervisors, the city council, or any other power comes together and somehow it rains 400 zillion million dollars, it's still going to take a number of years to make that a reality. If you started construction on a facility today, it's still going to take a couple of years for us to have total use of that. In the meantime, we've got to come up with some innovative ways of dealing with the criminal element.

Are you open to developing alternatives to jail for low-level minor offenses?

Oh, absolutely. ... House arrest works in a lot of areas, as long we have the proper authorities monitoring those. We've had occasions where we've arrested people with ankle bracelets on, and they're supposed to be monitored. If we can get a system that works as its designed to work, then I would be all for it.

photo

Chief Lindsey Horton (center) recently announced his command staff. Pictured, from left: Allen White, deputy chief of patrol operations; Lee Vance, assistant chief of patrol operations and investigations; Calvin Matthews, assistant chief of police administration; Dwayne Thomas, deputy chief of administrative support.

I ask because it's something Mayor Lumumba campaigned on.

I think what he's saying (about) alternatives involves getting into the communities, getting to young men before they become criminals. And, yes, I agree with that. As I indicated, there's this whole notion about who's responsible for crime. Long gone are the days when the police department is exclusively responsible for preventing crime. I think it's a more holistic approach we should take.

Everyone is responsible, starting with the individuals themselves. When individuals commit crimes, they make a conscious and deliberate decision to commit crimes. They might not always know what's right, but they know when something is wrong. It starts in the home—my father, my mother—it goes from there to school, from there it goes to churches, and at the very end, law enforcement. When policing gets involved, it indicates to me that one or all of those others have failed, and too often it's the home. Parents have almost given up on raising kids. They want to be a popular mother or father. I think they need to do what's necessary, and it starts when they're babies. You don't wait until your son gets tall enough to look you in the eye before you start trying to discipline them. You hear me use (the example of) Pookie and Pookie may be 13 years old, and we take Pookie home and often we meet a larger version of Pookie, who happens to be his daddy, and that's unfortunate—the sagging pants and all of that.

Granted, there are some occasions when parents are doing all that they can do. ... They're using every resource they have available—their last $2—to try to raise their kids properly. They might have five or six kids, but they have that one that decides they want to do things their way. The same kids raised by the same parents under the same roof, but this one decides he wants to do things differently. For all practical purposes these are good parents; sometimes they go broke trying to raise kids that go off the beaten path.

I'm referring to those that do not put forth the effort, those that do not understand that having kids means raising kids. Then they become part of our jobs to go out and arrest them, sometimes over and over for the same crimes.

photo

Police Chief Lindsey Horton has known his new boss, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, for four decades. In order to improve JPD’s image and raise the department’s level of professionalism, which he believes has diminished in recent years, Horton has forbidden officers from referring to the mayor by first name.

Given Mayor Lumumba's background in social activism and as a defense attorney representing people JPD might lock up, has that caused you to rethink how you police Jackson?

He's given me free rein to do what police chiefs do, which is enforce the law. Under no circumstance has he given me a directive to not arrest anyone or be soft on crime. And I'm going to be very aggressive, to the point that I may cause a little bit of inconvenience to our law-abiding citizens.

If they tolerate us while we do our jobs, much like construction at a local business that has signs up that say, "Please excuse us while we improve," (they will reap the benefits).

I don't propose to speak for the mayor, but when I made a deliberate decision to work for him, I had this understanding of him. There was an occasion when someone reached way back in the archives and pulled up a statement where he—and it appeared that it was taken out of context—that he doesn't like police. Well, guess what: I'm 61. You go back in the life of a 61-year-old black man, there were times when I wasn't excited about police, either. The entity of policing, I love. Policing goes back to biblical days. You cannot have a civilized society when you have the haves and the have-nots. People are going to try to take from other people.

What I did not like were those officers who were of the Caucasian persuasion who used their authority against a people of a different hue. My brothers and I and everyone else in our neighborhood used to run away from the police because there were times they could call us out to the car and slap us or throw unconsumed soda on us. That did not dissuade me from wanting to become a part of an entity that I know is necessary.

I endeavor to use every resource that I have available to make the citizens of Jackson safe, that the economy may continue to thrive and that so-called migration out of Jackson may reverse itself.

In remarks to your commanders, you talked a lot about professionalism. For example, you said you didn't want to hear anyone referring to Mayor Lumumba as "Chokwe" or using profanity with citizens. Why is professionalism important in crime fighting?

It's about image, and image can mean two things. It can mean how we present ourselves in uniform, how we present ourselves in our marked police cars, and it has to do with how we interact with and among the citizens of Jackson and anyone else who may travel through for the purpose of working, doing business or visits. I think we need to do a better job.

It's been said that a uniformed police officer is the most visible element of government in any municipality. So, yes, I'm pretty adamant about that. I think we should project ourselves and speak in the vernacular that professional officers should speak.

It's my position that 90 percent of crime is committed by 10 percent of the population. If I embrace the notion that 90 percent of the citizens are law-abiding citizens, our focus should perhaps be on that 10 percent (of criminals). It stands to reason that if you have occasion to interact with or stop an individual for a traffic violation, then they should be treated with courtesy. They should be treated with professionalism until such time it rises to a time that it causes us to escalate our level ... A lot of times, officers—not necessarily JPD officers—become overly officious. They take themselves too seriously. I want to make sure that officers understand what our charge is. The entity of law enforcement is to make people feel safe as we keep them safe.

JPD's image, the level of perceived professionalism, can help as much as hurt?

I think crime prevention should be done by committee. I think all of us play a role, meaning all the citizens. If you see a crime a being committed, you should report it—any level of crime—and you can also start by not committing crimes yourselves.

You see someone come through your community with a 42-inch flat-screen, fresh in a box, and they want to sell it to you for 100 (dollars), you've got to know it's hot. Particularly if he has 10 or 12 others in his truck—he stole them from some place. So if you become a part of that criminal enterprise, and you purchase it from him, don't be surprised when and if you become a victim weeks later, when he comes back to rob your home to get the very TV he sold you two weeks earlier. So we need the public's help. We obviously can't be every place all the time. We need the eyes and ears of the public to help us bring crime under control.

And do understand that Jackson does not have the monopoly on crime. As long as you have the haves and the have-nots, there's going to be crime, OK? What we want to do is minimize it. We want to lock those up that need to be locked up. We want to either convert them, not necessarily to Christianity, but we want to conform them to civility, that they might do the right thing. That they might be socialized into society and make all the working-class people feel comfortable so that they might go about their business, and to enhance our society that we might all live a high degree.

There are also perceptions about this agency—that morale is low, that corruption is a problem ...

This notion of low morale, while I agree, I don't know how you measure that. It's such an intangible. There are (officers) who, if you were to ask them to "name two things that you need most to be happy," obviously (the answer) might be more money and perhaps a new car, more equipment. I've noticed that even if they get a raise, weeks later they go turn that financial windfall into a new motorcycle or new truck, and they're right back to where they started, and they need yet more money.

What I'm saying is that morale is not always dictated by compensation. I think it has to do with working conditions. It has to do with appreciation. As long as I've been around the police department—and we're approaching 29 years now, I've been a deputy chief for 11 years—I've noticed with more than a casual interest, the up-and-down morale.

Our officers are fine officers. I would venture to say that while I'm not naive to think that all of our officers are perfect, a great high percentage of our officers are professional. They do what they're asked to do, but we have those that get off the beaten path sometimes; they do as much as they need to do. But with higher morale, these officers would go above and beyond. That's what I'm seeking. I want officers to go above and beyond. Don't just ride around and wait for the dispatcher to call them or send them on a call, but I need them patrolling. I need them to be conscientious about the safety of the citizens of Jackson, the safety of our elderly, the safety of our females, the safety of our young people, and to serve as quiet role models. The big mouth isn't the one that always needs to get the attention. Be professional. Have young people look up to you. ... I just need our officers to understand, that might be part of what it's going to take to enhance the economic plight of Jackson as well as that image (of Jackson). So yes, we absolutely we need to enhance morale. ...

We've had some officers who have committed criminal acts. Unfortunately, you can't legislate integrity. Integrity is something that needs to come with you. It needs to be part of your fiber. And, unfortunately, you can't get that through an interview, because people are going to say what you want to hear just to get the job. And then when they get access, they get a badge, they get a gun, they get a uniform. Much too often during my career, we've had officers that have used their authority to take advantage of people—even to the point of creating criminal activity.

Under my watch, if it's determined that an officer has committed a crime, I'm going to take it very personal. Not only will that officer be terminated, but I will be very emphatic and try to have that officer prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, because I think that an officer in uniform committing crimes is worse than a common criminal. And (to) anyone with any intent of becoming a law enforcement officer: We want strong positive men and women to come and join the Jackson Police Department. I want professional officers. I want professional department. And if they have any intent of doing anything other than that, then they need not apply to the Jackson Police Department.

Do you want your officers to fear you?

I don't manage like that. As a matter of fact ... I pride myself on not making decisions while I am moved by something that someone has done to disappoint me. I've been around long enough for officers to know how I manage. I lead by example. I think officers around have a pretty good idea what kind of a person I am. I am a no-nonsense type of person.

I think you apply appropriate discipline to the appropriate transgression. So to answer your question, no, I don't want anyone to fear me. I want to work. I'm part of the team; I'm the leader. I'm not unapproachable. A lot of chiefs have been accused of being unapproachable. When I'm out in public, officers go out of their way to come and speak to me. It doesn't mean that I'm weak. And it doesn't mean that I want them to be afraid of me, but I do want them to get on board.

What was the thinking behind having two assistant chiefs instead of just one like your predecessor?

I actually think it's a better flow. The police department has had that before, back when Robert Moore was chief of police. I think it lessens some of the load off of one assistant chief. As you know, in any municipality, the assistant chief is generally the one that runs the day-to-day operations (and) boots-on-the-ground flow of a police department.

(Assistant) Chief (Lee) Vance has done an outstanding job. As a matter of fact, he's been my boss for the past six years, but he was dealing with operations, the enforcement side. He's also had to deal with the administrative side, which is the civilian side—the jail, forensic crime lab, licensing and permits, vehicle management (and) communications.

I felt that we needed someone else to help manage that flow—Chief Vance did a yeoman's job with that—but to give him some relief. Too often, citizens have complained that it has take us too long to respond to complaints and other things dealing with the police department. So that's the primary purpose: that we move more expeditiously and more efficiently.

It's well-known that you have a background in martial arts. How do you see that factoring into your performing duties as chief of police?

I'm an 8th-degree black belt. I ascended through the ranks of martial arts just like the police department. I appreciate rank structure. I've taught martial since 1971, and I can't help but think it has helped craft (all) that I am. I believe in the discipline of the art. While training helps me develop my physical prowess to the point that I feel comfortable defending myself, the first part of martial arts is how to take a blow.

Seeing the blood and intestines of people on crime scenes—and yet being able to bring a calm presence to law enforcement, I'm hoping that will permeate throughout the department — that we will be a kinder, gentler police department.

Do you prefer to be called chief or sensei?

Chief is fine. I think that would be the professional thing.

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