Every story has more than one side and several government officials in Oxford felt compelled to voice theirs on Tuesday afternoon in an informal discussion with members of the press.The discussion concerned Sunday night’s episode of 60 Minutes and its harsh portrayal of Oxford and Ole Miss for the feature.
The controversial theme of the 60 Minutes segment outlined the practice of police forces across the country and their use of confidential informants (CIs) to increase the amount of drug offender arrests for the purpose of garnering grant money for each individual narcotics unit. Lafayette County and Ole Miss, in particular, bore the brunt of the feature as its Metro Narcotics drug task force was brought to light.
Oxford, Ole Miss and Lafayette County police forces participate in this program and LOU government officials believe viewers around the globe heard just a fraction of the story.
Opening the meeting, Ward II Alderman Robyn Tannehill began by pointing out several glaring omissions of the 60 Minutes segment; in particular, the fact that correspondent Leslie Stahl lauded Oxford and Ole Miss at the beginning of the segment, giving praise for “being one of the most popular college campus towns in America; noted for football, its school spirit and Southern charm.”
According to Tannehill, “What they (60 Minutes) did not say is ‘We now take you to Oxford Mississippi, a small town known for its high crime rate and unsafe streets. Now we take you to a town whose downtown area has disintegrated and all the windows are covered with boards. They did not say let’s take you to a small town where the gangs have infiltrated the high schools and drugs are being sold on the corners.’”
“There is a reason for that. We as a city, a county, a university, have decided that our community is worth fighting for. The safety of our citizens and children is worth fighting for,” she added.
According to city officials, drugs are being used and sold on a regular basis in Oxford, and for that sole reason the task force, Metro Narcotics exists.
According to Oxford Police Chief Joey East, there is no bias.
“We don’t target anyone and treat everyone the same that comes before us,” Chief East said. “We treat everyone equally and the same.”
Mayor Pat Patterson said in a prepared statement; “On behalf of the Board of Alderman and people of the entire community, we are of course concerned with how the 60 Minutes article portrayed the Metro Narcotics Unit and how that reflects on our community.”
“Since the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) and the MBN (Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics) do not have the resources to operate on a local level and if the Metro Narcotics Unit didn’t exist, Oxford would have nickel and dime drug dealers on every corner trying to sell drugs to our kids,” Mayor Patterson said.
Patterson added that with the addition of the new unit commander, Rob Waller, a retired DEA officer, city officials are going to “take a hard look at what we’re doing from top to bottom and make sure it is legal, ethical and, beyond that, the right thing to do.”
There are many concerns surround CI programs across the country. Concerns of the ethical nature of putting young people, Ole Miss students (in the case of the 60 Minutes segment) in harms way by doing what some see as the job of the police department.
There have been issues since the inception of the Metro Narcotics Unit in 1988, as there often are, and Oxford government officials own and recognize them. That, specifically, is given as the reason for the re-organization of the program and the “long hard look” it is about to receive.
“We didn’t want the community to lose trust in us so we put some things in place to secure that trust so they’d know we’re doing the very best practices that we could,” Chief East said. “We don’t always get it right – we’re not going to say that – and we’ve made some mistakes as it has been brought out; so during that, when we heard this tape from 60 Minutes, it pushed us to reassure the public that we were making the right decisions.”
Chief East, Mayor Patterson and Alderman Tannehill cover these and other issues in the linked videos and HottyToddy.com readers are encouraged to visit them.
Jeff McVay is a staff writer and graphic designer for Hottytoddy.com. He can be reached at email@example.com