A new police chief in town? So how about the local media asking him some questions?

A new police chief has just been appointed for our city, Beaumont, Texas. Well, he is sort of new.

The new appointee is Major Jimmy Singletary who started his more than 40 years of law enforcement experience with the Beaumont police, serving 30 years before leaving for a federal position, according to TV station KFDM, Channel 6. I do not know the man although I have heard a little about him and all I have heard is positive.

Singletary currently holds the rank of major with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. The stories I have seen so far online from Channel 6 — which reported yesterday that a “source” confirmed the appointment — as well as the other local media have failed to mention a few important facts which should go into a story of such magnitude. Well, maybe it’s just early. I hope that is the case because when a city gets a new police chief, its citizens/taxpayers need to know a few of the basic facts. It doesn’t matter if they have two officers or “262 sworn police officers and 37 civilians,” as the BPD Website points out. So we are left wondering about matters such as:

How old is the new pick?

None of the news outlets say. PublicData.com, the paid database I use to search various records such as driver license and criminal histories gives the only James Singletary I could find in Beaumont as being 63 years old.

How much does the police-chief-to-be earn as a sheriff’s major?

Databases provided by the Beaumont Enterprise which does not mention this in its online story — the paper has a “paywall” limiting news to those who do not subscribe — indicate Singletary’s 2008 total compensation was $103,149.00 with the Jefferson County sherifff’s office.

What will Singletary make as Beaumont Police Chief?

Again, another good question. The Enterprise‘s database shows current Beaumont Police Chief Frank Coffin had a total compensation amount of $121,703.68 in 2008, the most recent year available for the figures.

A few notable crimes within the city of Beaumont have made headlines this year including the death of 36-year-old Beaumont Police Officer Bryan Hebert, who was killed last month after the officer was allegedly killed by a man involved in a police chase. The suspect, 30-year-old John Nero, has been charged with capital murder.

But it is the police officers themselves who have perhaps drawn the most scrutiny from the public, and a little from the local media. One particular incident was caught on police dashboard camera in 2007 in which Derrick Newman, an African-American who was being detained by Beaumont police after a traffic stop, was allegedly struck 13 times by an officer. That officer, David Todd Burke, was fired in 2010, having been convicted of official oppression. A Texas appeals court affirmed that conviction on Wednesday.

Officer Cody Guedry was also convicted of the same charge in that incident but was given a new trial. He is currently working for the Beaumont police as a community relations officer.

So I don’t know if our local media have asked or plan to ask of Singletary, but there are some questions that perhaps inquiring minds would like to know, such as:

Do you think Beaumont PD has a bad reputation and if so, what do you plan to do to fix it?

Where do your opinions fall on the controversy over whether police actions should be overseen by a citizen review board or one that acts in an advisory role such as the committee approved by the city council? 

Do you plan any major changes in how the department will approach its job? Any shake ups?

And finally, there are a couple of semi-personal questions that nonetheless need answering for a city’s people to gain the trust of its new chief. The first can be asked by reporters with a little tact. An honest answer by the new chief might go a long way in repairing harmed trust issues in the community between citizens and police.

Have you ever had use of force complaints filed against you? If so, how many and what were the outcomes and circumstances?

If the new chief is reluctant to answer such questions, which he really should not be even though it would not be unusual to have some, unfounded, use of force complaints against an officer who has spent as many years on the jobs as Singletary, then the media should go the Open Records route. Although I have lost much of the respect I once had of our only daily, the Beaumont Enterprise, they nonetheless performed well in sticking with a request Beaumont PD tried to derail on officer use of force documents. Perhaps the department does not keep records on use of force as far back as during Singletary’s first years with the department. But if so, they should make those records available because the subject is pertinent.

There are other people to be interviewed as well, of course, the officers of the local police union, sheriff’s deputies and former deputies and Beaumont officers who worked with or for the new chief. This is an instance where a “source” would be appropriately used if that source was very trustworthy. Others who would be of interest are local “gadflies” because they bring color to a topic that is too often bathed in “black and white” or “blue and every other color.” Oh, and don’t forget to ask Councilman Mike Getz, because he seems to be everywhere lately, including Jasper, where their own police department seems to be falling apart at the seams.

And there is this. Singletary, if he is 63, and even if he is not, he is not a spring chicken who should not be busting down doors and taking point in a SWAT raid. That isn’t to say he has or has not done this lately. I don’t know. But it is appropriate for the community to know this:

How long do you plan on sticking around as Beaumont police chief?

Even though all I have heard about the new pick is positive, I still believe the media needs to ask many questions of him and see if he answers those inquiries and what his answers might be. Perhaps you do not feel the same way, but I think that these are not insignificant questions. And believe it or not, we have a right to know.


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