Jay Winstead said he knew that serving as Yazoo City’s police chief would come with many challenges.
But he said the biggest obstacle was not dealing with local criminals…the biggest headache was dealing with Mayor Diane Delaware.
Winstead submitted his resignation to the aldermen of Yazoo City Monday morning. He admits he did not notify Delaware.
“She never supported me, and the aldermen appointed me,” Winstead said. “So, that was who I responded to when it came to my resignation.”
Next month would have been about a year since Winstead assumed the role of police chief at the Yazoo City Police Department. His decision to resign was a difficult one for the veteran law enforcement officer to make considering his hometown is currently gripped with fear over recent shootings and the murder of a 13-year-old boy in the streets in what he describes as “an execution.” He also added that he cares tremendously about the employees within the police department, and it was hard to make his decision based on those feelings.
But he said “the straw that broke the camel’s back” happened over the weekend as mass shootings occurred three nights in a row. And it wasn’t the investigations or long hours that pushed him into his decision to resign. He said it was Delaware’s refusal to allow mutual aid between the police department and the Yazoo County Sheriff’s Department.
“Sheriff Jake Sheriff and I wanted to create a mutual aid agreement between our agencies in an effort to address this East side versus West side conflict that is happening in our community right now,” Winstead said. “We were essentially policing the same people because they were crossing boundaries into the city and county limits, running over the lines. They know the limitations there are when it comes to those lines. We would not reach successful results unless we worked hand-in-hand. Sheriff was all for it, and I was too. But the mayor shot it down.”
Winstead said when his officers assisted deputies during Saturday’s shooting near Shady Drive that left two injured following gunshots, he said Delaware “drug him over the coals.”
“She told me that we didn’t need to be doing that,” he said. “She gave no specific reasons as to why she shot down the idea of mutual aid. But I believe it is because it would be something that she would not have direct authority over.”
Since Winstead’s resignation, Sheriff has been asked to serve as interim police chief until a permanent chief is hired.
“I think Sheriff running the department for now will be great,” Winstead said. “He is a God-fearing man who will do the job. But I think it will be successful even more so because the mayor will not be able to tell him what to do since he is the chief law enforcement officer of Yazoo County, which Yazoo City falls under.”
But the recent shootings and a potential mutual aid agreement were not the only factors in Winstead’s resignation, he said. He said Delaware instructed him to stop working patrol with his officers for liability issues. He said she also told him to direct his main investigator to do the same.
“I was directed to no longer work 12-hour shifts to help my patrol officers, even though we were at the point where we only had two units on the streets,” Winstead said. “I am not the kind to sit at my house and hear my officers struggling over the radios and remain sitting on the couch.”
Winstead said he also attempted to recruit more officers, and he admits the city council hired several over the last several months. But he said after the officers were hired by the board, it took a long time for the necessary paperwork, background checks and other requirements to float through City Hall. He said it took three months for everything to be finalized for one group of new hires. They were hired in November and were not sworn in until this month.
“There wasn’t a sense of time when it came to getting more officers on the street,” Winstead said.
Winstead said he also requested for a pay raise for his officers in an effort to attract new hires and keep current ones.
“I was the only department head who made requests for an increase in pay,” Winstead said. “We had to prepare a budget to be presented to the board. But we were informed through email by the city clerk that the mayor would be presenting those budgets. If I have to ask five people on a board for money, being in front of the board would have been the best time to justify that request and to allow the board to question me. That didn’t happen this year. When I did publicly ask the board for an increase in pay, the mayor got so mad that she walked out of that meeting because she told me not to ask.”
Winstead also said that Delaware took up a lot of his time with meetings and phone calls that rendered little results.
“With the recent shootings we have had, I was at City Hall every day last week,” he said. “I don’t have time to appease what the mayor wants. During all these circumstances we are dealing with, she had me in her office phoning 12 sheriff departments and 12 police departments in the surrounding areas to see whether they had some help available for part-time work. She directed me to make those phone calls in her presence with her listening in on the conversations.”
Winstead said, however, that he knew he never had the support of Delaware during his tenure. The mayor opposed his hire and openly acknowledged her opposition in several public meetings.
“When I first came on as chief, she told me the biggest thing I had working against me was that I was white in a predominantly black town,” Winstead said. “She referenced that I should be on a diet. And she micro-managed everything. I couldn’t do my job and satisfy her. In my opinion, there needs to be a liaison between the police department and the mayor - a liaison who will drop everything to appease the mayor while the police department can do their actual job.”
Winstead said he has been in the law enforcement field for over two decades and can handle the job.
“But the conflict between the mayor and I was so significant that it cast a shadow on anything else that was being done,” he said. “And one time, after a phone call with her that lasted an hour and 47 minutes, the rest of my business day was spent with the mayor personally. When the meeting ended that night, another meeting would be scheduled the next day to talk about stop signs. I would say about two-thirds of my conversations with the mayor are spent with her telling me about her work history at Xerox. I could not be left alone long enough to deal with what is going on with the criminals. There are not enough hours in the day to do both.”
Winstead said the only regret he feels is the progress that was being made with connecting with the public. He said more and more people within the community were beginning to feel comfortable speaking with his department. One citizen contacted him after his resignation and felt uneasy about speaking with anyone else.
Winstead said the numbers speak for themselves when it comes to stability within the police department.
“In six years, we have now had eight police chiefs in some form or fashion,” Winstead said. “That shows instability. And it trickles down into the department with morale and trust. The only solution would be if the city charter was amended that would give the department heads the power to run their own departments.”
Winstead said if people would attend the city council meetings and witness it for themselves, they could form their own opinions.
“It’s embarrassing,” Winstead said. “People need to know who they are putting in office on election day. Some are not interested in serving the community. They are interested in serving themselves.”