Pay Dispute Leaves Jonesboro Without Police Protection

Story Courtesy of the Jackson Parish Journal

On Sunday evening a call was received by Jackson Parish Sheriff’s Office (JPSO) about several disturbances and fights taking place during a large gathering at Pierre Park in Jonesboro. Deputies quickly responded. A few minutes later another call, this time to 911, was made indicating that shots had been fired at the same location. More JPSO Deputies arrived.

The question then arose about why were no Jonesboro Police Department (JPD) Officers on the scene? Here it was a gathering of roughly 500 people at a public location within the city limits of Jonesboro, yet there was not a single Officer from the JPD on site. Not before the disturbances took place. Not after. How could this be? The answer is simple. There were no JPD Officers on duty. 

When Jonesboro Police Chief, James “Spike” Harris, was questioned about this, he gave a simple explanation.

“We didn’t have anybody on duty because my Officers refused to work without being paid,” said Harris. “I don’t blame them either.” 

Harris then expounded further. 

“Now I am being questioned about why there were no Officers on site. My reply to that is who would go to work if they knew they weren’t going to get compensated for their time? I certainly wouldn’t and don’t know of anyone who would.”

“Our Officers are supposed to be paid for their service but now the JPD is in the spotlight and it shouldn’t be. What should be happening is the Mayor being brought to the table for not paying employees their due wages.”

To get a perspective on this you must backtrack to the Board of Aldermen meeting that was held in January where Mayor Thompson indicated that the Town of Jonesboro was in dire financial condition and that harsh changes had to be made. Of particular importance was the decision to change the wage scale for all town employees to a compensatory time schedule. 

Compensatory time is an arrangement by which eligible employees are entitled to take time off in lieu of overtime pay. Yet in this instance, this was not something the JPD Officers had an option of considering but instead had forced on them. 

Immediately after the new payment plan was instituted Chief Harris balked at signing the agreement on behalf of the JPD. His objection was two-fold.

“First of all, what Mayor Thompson did is highly illegal as he has no right to refuse to pay the Jonesboro Police Officers their due wages without the consent of the Chief of Police. Per Louisiana Revised Code 33:2213.1 (B) subsection (b) an agreement or understanding about wages must arrive between the employer and employee before the performance of work.”

“The Police Department does not report directly to the mayor’s office. The Chief of Police in this municipality is an elected official who controls the budget set forth by the Board of Aldermen and handles day to day operations of the police department. So in effect, the JPD Officers don’t work for the Town of Jonesboro but for the Jonesboro Police Department. In my capacity as the head of this department or their employer, no agreement or understanding has been reached with the Officers, who are the employees other than the original agreement they signed when they were hired.”

“Secondly, the original agreement stated that employees who did not take their compensatory time within a 30-day period would lose it. This would require officers to be forced to miss work, which would cause serious manpower shortage problems or work without getting paid for their time.”

At the Board of Aldermen meeting in February, this was brought up again by Assistant Police Chief, Ciera Murphy. After hearing her objection, Mayor Thompson stated that he would look into this and make adjustments as necessary. 

When the JPD Officers received their pay this past week there was no overtime pay included. According to what Harris was told by his Officers when they questioned why their check was “short” they were told by the City Payroll Clerk that the Mayor said not to include overtime pay in their checks.

Chief Harris said that this is just another ploy of Mayor Thompson in his long-going vendetta against him and the Police Department. He also added that sadly, it not only hurts the people who are trying to keep Jonesboro safe but puts the public at risk. 

“In Mayor Thompson’s previous administration, he had the police department defunded,” recalled Harris. “Since Mayor Thompson was re-elected, he has tried time and again to take money and resources away from the JPD, but this time the town council has been wise enough to not vote to do so. He even went so far as to say in a public forum that He will have the Jonesboro Police walking or riding bicycles.”

Harris concluded by saying enough is enough and he will no longer sit idly by and see his department be subjected to this type of action anymore. 

“I am in contact with the necessary authorities about what is going on and am in the process of seeking not only criminal charges against Mayor Thompson and his staff but also filing for civil litigation in this matter.”

KNOE-TV, Channel 8 does feature about the dispute

On Monday a feature was done on the dispute by KNOE-TV, Channel 8 where Harris and Thompson were both interviewed. To see the news piece entitled Police chief in Jonesboro seeking legal action against Mayor click here.


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