Columbus mayor and police chief at odds over appointing city marshal to investigate violent crimes

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Tuesday, the Columbus City Council voted in executive session to table their discussion on hiring a city marshal.

This was after intense debate during the public session that saw Mayor Keith Gaskin and Police Chief Fred Shelton on opposite sides of the issue.

“If we’re going to put our officers out there and expose them to gunfire and disease, we need to pay them,” Chief Shelton said during the session.

A pay raise for his officers was at the top of a long list of recommendations Chief Shelton brought before the city council that night.

Mayor Gaskin said it left him shocked.

“He and I had a very different conversation from what he said that night,” Mayor Gaskin said during his Wednesday press conference. “All the documents that he passed out to the council, I had never seen.”

During their last conversation before the meeting, the mayor says he and Chief Shelton were in agreement over his proposal to create a city marshal position to work as a specialist on the city’s violent crimes.

But the chief said his stance changed after he looked closer at the position.

“I’m trying to see, ‘How would one person make that big a difference that would change what we’re doing now?'” Chief Shelton asked.

Under the mayor’s proposal, the marshal would report directly to the mayor and focus primarily on violent crimes like shootings, assaults and armed robberies.

“The intent of a city marshal was not to do anything to cause problems within the police department, but to enhance the police department and enhance our relationship with the sheriff’s department,” Mayor Gaskin says.

However, Chief Shelton does not see how that would advance their investigations.

“It will be a duplication of services,” he says. “If we already got investigators that are already working on felony cases, then you have another person, what is he going to learn that they had not already learned?”

The mayor says he envisions the city marshal as another resource for local law enforcement, but the police chief says their need for manpower goes beyond adding just one person.

“The first thing we need to do is to get officers and do that by increasing their pay and providing incentives for officers to come to this department,” Chief Shelton says.

The police chief says hiring a grant writer and upgrading department technology would also be more effective options.

The mayor reiterated during his press conference that this proposal was not meant as a slight to the police force.

“I just want to have this discussion, see if this could potentially work,” he says.

“At the end of the day, all of us are trying to come up with strategies that are going to make the city safer,” says Chief Shelton, adding that he did not take any personal offense at the proposal.

The Columbus Police Department currently has 48 active officers, 16 short of full strength.

The issue of the city marshal is not currently on the upcoming agenda for the next city council meeting on February 15.

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