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Helena mayor makes change in police force; crime reduction lacking, he says after replacing chief

by Kenneth Heard | April 25, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Helena-West Helena Police Chief Virgil Green was fired Monday after serving as the law enforcement leader of the Phillips County town for less than two years.

Mayor Jay Hollowell said Green's lack of success in reducing crime in the town was a major reason for Green's termination.

Hollowell chose James Patrick Smith, 45, a 20-year veteran of the Memphis Police Department and native of Helena-West Helena, as Green's successor. Officials swore in Smith as the chief Monday morning, about an hour after Green was fired.

"[Green] was terminated because of a lack of performance in the agency," Hollowell said. "We needed to go in a new direction. He was not successful."

Green was hired as police chief in July 2015. He had been the police chief of Boley, Okla., for 12 years and was hired as the chief of Spencer, Okla., in 2011.

While there, he clashed with former City Manager Nicole Mukes over police issues and was suspended with pay in April 2014. In a letter to the City Council written by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 153 in Spencer, the organization sought to remove Mukes.

"Ms. Mukes placed ... Virgil Green on paid administrative leave for violations that appear to be personal in nature instead of proven misconduct," the organization's president, Doug Spencer, wrote. "Over the course of the Chief's tenure, the Union and its members have fully supported and witnessed enhanced police operations under the guidance and leadership of Chief Green."

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Green was fired in early 2015.

Mukes refused to comment Monday about Green's tenure as Spencer's police chief.

Green did not return a telephone message left on his cell phone early Monday. Later, the phone had been disconnected.

Green announced his bid as a Democratic candidate for Oklahoma County sheriff in March. He was defeated in an April 4 primary race by Oklahoma County deputy Mike Hanson.

Hollowell said Green maintained a home in Oklahoma City where his wife, Pamela Green, and children live. Virgil Green would often commute to Oklahoma on weekends, Hollowell said.

Oklahoma County Assessor's records show Green bought a home in Oklahoma City in 2002.

Hollowell said that was not why Green was fired.

"His driving back and forth to Oklahoma, and his sheriff's race, had nothing to do with his termination," the mayor said. "We've been seeing an increasing rate of crime for several years. We needed to do something."

Smith graduated from Helena-West Helena Central High School and earned a bachelor of science degree from LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis. He also earned a bachelor's degree in ministry and a master of arts in Christian counseling from the International College of Ministry in Orlando, Fla.

He is founder and president of ONEBEAT, a Memphis youth mentoring organization.

While with the Memphis Police Department, Smith worked in several departments, including homicide, the organized crime unit, vice narcotics, drug enforcement and Project Safe Neighborhood.

Smith did not return telephone messages Monday.

In a news release issued by the city, he said he is looking forward to returning to his hometown and making it "a model of modern police service built upon a strong partnership with the community using respect, creativity and technology to find solutions and improve the quality of life and safety for all."

Hollowell said he had considered Smith for the position for months after talking with one of Smith's high school friends.

"I knew his family for a long time," the mayor said. "It clicked from there. He wanted to come home and we wanted him. It was the perfect fit."

State Desk on 04/25/2017

Print Headline: Helena mayor makes change in police force; Crime reduction lacking, he says after replacing chief

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