Police are on the streets everyday to protect and serve, but in their mission to duty can they sometimes go too far to make arrests? News Channel 12 has obtained scanner traffic where some Jackson Police Department officers might have stepped out of bounds to get some criminals off the streets. In a WJTV investigation, we took the audio to Jackson Police Headquarters to get answers.
Friday, January 24, 2014, Jackson Police officers are searching for two suspected auto thieves in the South Jackson area along Maria Drive.
Around 2:45 that afternoon, while looking for the pair, officerswanted to enter a home where they believed they would find the two suspects.
That's when the WJTV newsroom heard a conversation between two Jackson officers over the scanner. This is a portion of that scanner traffic that we heard.
"Female Officer: Is there supposed to be some more suspects in an auto theft."
"Male Officer: 10-4… There's supposed to be two suspects who came from the auto theft… just knock on the door and if they let y'all in… the best way to get in is.. tell them y'all got a disturbance call and you need to come in and identify everybody in the house. Make sure you ask for their identification and drivers license if they let you in… but just let them know you got a disturbance call over there that way you can get in."
“Female Officer : 10-4”
"Male Officer: Don't tell them you're looking for nobody now, just you know you're coming over there on a disturbance call you heard a woman screaming and y'all just need to check it out… and if any if anybody in the house… see if they'll let y'all walk around and look around… if y'all spot, you know, if y'all see some people just ask for their driver's license or identification."
Did the Jackson officers try to enter a residence under a false pretense to find those suspected auto thieves?
We took the scanner traffic to the top brass at JPD for their interpretation of that scanner call.
We sat down with Assistant Police Chief, Lee Vance for his reaction.
"What it sounded like to me, there were two young officers who were looking for some individuals who had been involved in a felony and there was another officer who came on the radio to give them an alternative way to perhaps get into that house to look for those individuals. To be perfectly honest with you it sounded like it was well intended, but a well-intended violation is still a violation."
According to Assistant Chief Vance, preliminary reports indicate the officers never entered a home as they searched for the suspects. A full investigation by JPD is now underway involving three officers.
"We're going to conduct a thorough investigation,” says Vance, “And listen to the whole tape and pull all the dispatch logs and whatever we find, we'll deal with."
We also took the scanner traffic to Professor Matt Steffey with Mississippi College's School of Law for his own take on the audio to find out if he believes the officers violated any rules or laws.
Steffey says, "What it sounds like is an officer trying to establish pretext for an unlawful search, that is for the search to be lawful they need to have a warrant, which they apparently do not have, they need to have consent which they apparently are not seeking or they need to have exigent circumstances which they are apparently manufacturing."
Professor Steffey says the biggest surprise for him wasn't just what was said, but how it was said.
"What is I think the most shocking is to hear it discussed so casually, to hear one officer coaching others about how to establish the pretext as if it's just an ever day thing, that's deeply disturbing," says Steffey.
At this point, we're still awaiting word from Jackson Police as to whether or not those two auto suspects were eventually arrested. That's part of JPD's investigation that just got underway.
Assistant Chief Vance says this is the first time something like this has come across his desk and he wants to get to the bottom of the matter.
"We don't condone violation of policy, we don't condone violating people's rights and whether it was well intended or not it's an adjustment we have to make to make sure that our people comply with policies and comply with laws, if not then they're not doing us any good," says Vance.
Jackson Police tell us they know the identities of the officers involved in this scanner call. They tell us one is a seasoned officer and the other two are younger officers.
They are also trying to decide if this matter will be handled administratively or through internal affairs.
We'll stay on top of the investigation and let you know where it goes from here.