City board names new Chief of Police; sets welcoming ceremony next Friday

Published 12:56 pm Friday, February 2, 2024

In a special meeting at City Hall Friday morning the Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen named longtime Panola County law enforcement officer Dennis Darby to be the next Chief of Police.

Darby, retired from a career with the Mississippi High Patrol, was Sheriff of Panola County before losing the office to current Sheriff Shane Phelps in 2019, and again in the 2023 cycle. From late 2018 until the end of 2023 Darby served as the Constable for the Second Judicial District of the county.

He will be sworn in and introduced at a ceremony on Friday, Feb. 9, at 10:30 at the Municipal Court building on the Square. The public is invited.

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The vote to hire Darby was 4-1 following alderman Stan Harrison’s motion. Voting yes was Harrison, Teddy Morrow, Bobby Walton, and Dennis Land. The dissenting vote came from Bill Duggar.

Darby’s first day on the payroll will be next Friday. The position pays an annual salary of $85,000.

“I’m looking forward to working for the people of Batesville to clean up the crime and corruption in the city,” Darby said shortly after the vote was announced. “I thank the mayor and the aldermen for the opportunity to serve. I look forward to working with the officers and employees of the police department and all the citizens of Batesville.”

Darby will replace Chief of Police Kerry Pittman, who has served in almost every position at the department, and has been the chief for the past three years. He announced his retirement from law enforcement late last year and has taken a job in the private sector.

Pittman’s original letter to the city board said he will serve until late March when he officially reaches his retirement date. Aldermen said at the time he will be kept on staff at his chief’s salary until that date, and would leave the details of his position and duties to whomever was chosen as the new department head.

Darby was selected from five applications the board received. The other candidates considered were:

Juan Stephen Gray, the assistant police chief in the Town of Terry (Hinds County), Captain Wesley Hawkins of the Batesville Police Dept.; Oxford Police Dept. officer James Kevin Smith of Pope, and Tupelo Police Dept. School Resource Officer Christopher Wray of Mooreville.

Darby said Friday he is excited about the new challenge, stressing that he needs help and cooperation from the general public to accomplish his crime-curbing objectives.

“After all these years I think everyone in Batesville and Panola County has my cell phone number, but if they don’t they are welcome to come by and get it from the police station,” Darby said. “I will need the help and information from the citizens and I will be easy to reach.”

“I want Batesville to be the safest place in the United States of America, and we can do that together,” Darby said.