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Debate continues over bills expanding court system, state-run police force in Jackson

Capitol Police
Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety

The final version of legislation regarding Jackson’s court system and the Capitol Police force is scheduled to be debated by a group of nine white conferees and just one Black lawmaker.

House Bill 1020, which has been the center of controversy during the current legislative session, would provide five appointed judges in an attempt to clear the backlog of criminal cases in Mississippi’s capital city, while also further funding Capitol Police and expanding its jurisdiction within the city.

House Minority Leader Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, contends that any measure that would provide five appointed judges in an attempt to clear the backlog of criminal cases in the city of Jackson is unconstitutional and undermines city leadership.

“All judges shall be elected,” Johnson asserted. “It doesn’t matter where they are, and this bill still has appointed judges. Now, some people referred back to the fact that the Supreme Court has appointed judges for Jackson before, but even that’s unconstitutional. Nobody’s ever challenged it, but it is.”

Even if lawmakers can’t agree on HB 1020, another piece of legislation is heading to conference that would expand the jurisdiction of Capitol Police. Senate Bill 2343 would expand Capitol Police’s territory, but in a more gerrymandered land mass that includes a portion of the city of Ridgeland.

Senator Joey Fillingane, who authored SB 2343 and is a conferee for the piece, is glad to have his work being considered in the case that extra amendments are added to HB 1020 to reduce the boundaries of Capitol Police’s jurisprudence.

“In the event that something goes array on the other bill, certainly we have a second bill that we can deal with the Capitol Police’s jurisdictional limits if need be,” Fillingane said.

Johnson takes issue with the idea of extending a police force he deems to be a glorified “security force” that is limited in its ability to serve and protect.

“I don’t agree with expanding a police force that’s really not a police force. If Capitol Police arrests somebody, they have to call the sheriff’s department or JPD to take them somewhere to hold them. If somebody calls 911, they can’t get to the Capitol Police force because they don’t have access to 911,” Johnson said. “All they can do is ride around, intimidate people, and pick them up. If that’s what you want, call them a security force, but don’t ask the legislature to fund a police force that can’t do its job.”

Opponents of the bills argue that it is an attempt by white leaders to control a majority-Black major city in the U.S. If the two pieces are signed into state law, litigation is expected to follow.

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