Local officials in Oxford, Mississippi, have opened a review into the practices of a controversial drug unit and implemented changes to its policies following a BuzzFeed News investigation. The changes were announced by University of Mississippi Police Chief Tim Potts in an interview with the Daily Mississippian this week.
A series of BuzzFeed News stories published this year revealed that Lafayette County Metro Narcotics — a multi-jurisdictional unit overseen and funded jointly by the city of Oxford, Lafayette County, and the University of Mississippi — targets college-age locals for low-level drug charges and coerces them into working as confidential informants by exaggerating the legal consequences they may face.
"[S]ometimes you see things that make you reflect and say 'Hey, let’s take a look at this,'" Potts told the local paper. "Are we doing what we say we’re doing? Are we following best practices? I’m not going to say that we only looked because of the articles, but I think the scrutiny on the unit made us and the University want to look at it."
According to Potts, a team of law enforcement officials from outside Oxford is investigating the unit’s operations. He told the local paper that these officials worked in narcotics, but he did not specify what agency they worked under.
Local officials have also adjusted the evaluation process for the unit, now having officers undergo annual performance reviews, Potts told the paper. (Potts did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ interview request for this story.)
In the months since BuzzFeed News’ first story on the subject in April, local political groups have called on elected officials and university administrators to stop funding the unit, which received $100,000 each from the city, the country, and Ole Miss. In April, the Lafayette County Libertarian Party sent a letter to the Oxford mayor and Board of Aldermen, the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors, and University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones demanding that they disband the unit. In October, following two more BuzzFeed News stories on the unit, the Libertarian Party of Mississippi released a statement asking the city, county, and university to end their support for the drug unit.
Metro Narcotics Captain Keith Davis resigned on Sept. 30, the same day BuzzFeed News published a story about an inmate in prison for murder who claims he killed his 18-year-old victim because he believed him to be an informant for Metro Narcotics. Though he denied that the timing of his departure had anything to do with the stories, one local source with ties to the law enforcement community, claimed that the University of Mississippi had pressured Davis to step down in the months following BuzzFeed News’ initial story in April. A university spokesperson declined to confirm or deny the claim.
Despite the new scrutiny on Metro Narcotics, Potts told the Daily Mississippian that there were no plans to eliminate the unit.
"We have to continue fighting the drug fight," Potts said to the paper. "If we lose the metro team, are we prepared to fight that drug war on our own? I don’t know if each individual agency could say yes on that right now."