Officers working for clubs debated

Published 12:06 am Sunday, October 1, 2017

NATCHEZ — A local bar owner and the Natchez police chief Tuesday debated the city’s decision to disallow police officers from working in bars and nightclubs as secondary jobs.

Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong said he “could not believe what was taking place” when he arrived in Natchez and found that officers were working these establishments while donning their city police uniforms. Armstrong approached the board of aldermen last month requesting a change, and the board voted to effectively prevent officers from working in bars or nightclubs at all.

But at Tuesday’s board of aldermen meeting, Andrew’s Tavern owner Sammy Atkins said the decision has caused himself and other bar owners issues.

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“Since then, we’ve had problems that we haven’t had in eight years,” Atkins said.

Atkins is part of a group that filed an appeal with the Adams County Circuit Court Sept. 6 against the city, disputing the aldermen’s decision. Club Paradise owner W.C. Curtis, who also attended Tuesday’s meeting, is also a plaintiff, as well as the Fraternal Order of Police.

Attorney Jeffery Harness, who submitted the appeal on the plaintiffs’ behalf, made the argument the board of aldermen has the right to prevent officers from using city equipment on secondary jobs, but does not have the right to bar them from the job itself.

“Our law enforcement officers, a lot of their income comes from moonlighting … they do a good job at what they do, and it makes the community safer to have these trained officers there anyway,” Harness said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Atkins said he does not believe the city would share any liability by having officers work these jobs, rather the liability would fall on the owners of the establishment.

“What we’re asking is (for) y’all to reconsider what you voted on when we had no knowledge of this and it has hurt us, each one of us since then.”

Atkins said the City of Madison allows its police officers to work in bars, as does the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.

But after the meeting, Armstrong said he spoke with the Madison police chief, who reportedly told Armstrong the department does not allow that because it would be a “conflict of interest.”

Madison County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sandra Buckley said Thursday that Madison County deputies are also not allowed to work in bars or nightclubs.

After Watkins spoke before the board, Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith said her main objection to officers working in bars was doing so while wearing a city uniform, and she asked Armstrong to explain why he does not believe officers should work in these establishments at all.

Armstrong said having officers work in bars is not only a potential liability, but could take away from officers’ capability as a police officer.

“How would it be for your first-grade teacher, after she gets off work she goes to the gentlemen’s club to start working, and the next morning she’s (at school) teaching your son or daughter?” Armstrong said. “I think we’re sending the wrong message.”

Armstrong said he had approved more than 15 other secondary jobs for his officers.

“I’m not against (officers) making money. I want them to make money and I support them making money. But if we’re going to be a professional law enforcement department, I think we look at all aspects of that.

“Since I’ve been here, there’s been a lot of things that needed to be put in check, but it wasn’t put in check. We’re looking at all these things. We support our officers, and they know that.”

After he finished giving his stance, Armstrong said he would support whatever the board decides “100 percent.”

Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier said he wanted to uphold the decision the board made last month, and the issue was left at that.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said Thursday his deputies “have no desire to work in bars,” though he would not allow it anyway.

“I just don’t want to send the wrong message,” Patten said.

The sheriff, like Armstrong, said he does not want to put his deputies in a situation where a patron leaves a bar, drives drunk and becomes involved in a lethal situation, all while a law enforcement officer was supposed to be on watch.

“That’s blood on that deputy’s hands … and the sheriff’s office’s hands,” Patten said.

Patten said his comments are not meant to disparage the bar owner’s association, which he said polices itself well.