Fort Valley State University’s director of environmental health and safety was named the Pine Bluff, Ark., police chief Wednesday.
Brenda Davis-Jones, 48, a former FVSU police chief and a nearly 20-year veteran of the Macon police force, will assume command July 12. Her last day at FVSU is July 9.
She will be the first woman to command the Pine Bluff, Ark., Police Department.
“I’m very humbled and appreciative ... and I’m looking forward to being a part of the Pine Bluff community,” Davis-Jones said in a telephone interview.
But the new job isn’t exactly a bed of roses.
Davis-Jones takes the helm amid the controversial firing of the former chief and a resulting lawsuit against the city. She also wasn’t the first choice of veteran Councilman Bill Bru-mett, who expressed concern during a telephone interview about Davis-Jones’ ability to command the department, especially when the city is embroiled in controversy involving its mayor, former chief and a legal battle headed to court in January.
But Davis-Jones remained undaunted. She said she’s “staying away from that” and focusing on the here and now.
“I want to come here and start fresh and not look back,” Davis-Jones said in reference to the controversy involving the mayor and former chief. “When you take a look back, you tend to stumble and fall.”
She also noted that she’s more than experienced enough to command a police department of 177 — including 145 sworn officers — manage a budget of more than $9 million and help protect and service a population of about 65,000.
Davis-Jones noted her experience as campus police chief and with the Macon Police Department, where she rose to the rank of major and served in varied capacities — including fiscal management director over the department’s then $14.6 million budget. She also served as the professional standards director and E-911 director. She said her primary objective as police chief will be establishing a strong community policing initiative.
Mayor Carl Redus noted that it was Davis-Jones’ experience and expertise that resulted in her rising to the top of a stack of about 30 initial applicants. Redus said a search committee helped him narrow the choice down to two candidates, and Davis-Jones was selected. The mayor has the authority to hire the police chief.
Brumett, a member of the public safety committee, said he first heard that the field was down to two last week when he was invited to sit in on interviews with the finalists.
Brumett, a 19-year member of council, noted that the council had voted 5 to 3 to rescind the mayor’s decision to fire the former chief but that the motion failed to garner the sixth voted needed to veto the mayor’s action.
The former chief was fired for insubordination, but Bru-mett said his understanding was that the chief and the mayor were at odds over the mayor overstepping his authority to have access to information related to police investigations. According to Brumett, the matter blew up into an argument in which the chief told him he might as well fire him and the mayor did. The chief subsequently filed a lawsuit, Brumett said.
Redus declined to comment on the matter, referring comment to the Arkansas Municipal League, which is representing the city. Mark R. Hayes, AML general counsel, said he was not going to get into a true or false assessment in relation to Brumett’s characterization of the matter. But Hayes noted that the mayor had not acted outside his scope of authority and that the former chief invited his own firing when he said he couldn’t make certain changes the mayor requested and told the mayor that he might as well fire him.
Former Chief John Howell, who was fired by the mayor March 8, filed a lawsuit in federal court in April claiming race and age discrimination and wrongful termination, The Associated Press reported. The lawsuit said Redus on several occasions insisted that Howell provide the mayor with details from criminal investigation files. Howell could not be reached for comment.
FVSU released a statement from president Larry Rivers about Davis-Jones.
“As a member of the FVSU professional staff, she served us well as chief of campus police,” Rivers said in the statement. “Then, she utilized considerable expertise to assist us in ensuring Fort Valley State’s complete compliance with federal and state environmental regulations. She truly has made a difference here in The Valley.”
Telegraph writer Andrea Castillo contributed to this report.