By Scott Buttram, publisher
Sometimes I tend to obsess. When that happens, the squeaky wheels start turning and it’s hard to stop them. The obsessing began as Tuesday night’s election results rolled in and a perfectly good cop was out of a job.
As the local newspaper for Clay, Pinson, and Center Point, we hear from residents on a regular basis about their concerns for the communities where they live. Sometimes by email, sometimes by text, sometimes by phone, often through social media. They talk and we listen.
The number one concern in the three aforementioned cities is crime, specifically a full time local police department to protect neighborhoods from crime. Crime is followed closely by concerns for schools, but I don’t have any quick answers for education.
In fact, there isn’t a quick answer for crime, either, but that’s where my current obsession lies.
The right plan, the right person, and the right time may be at hand.
The number one concern from city leaders has always been the cost of a local police department and all the moving parts that come with a major commitment. That doesn’t mean they’re opposed to the idea, they just question how they would pay for such and undertaking, as they should. Keeping the government solvent is usually a high priority for elected officials not named Larry Langford.
In this case, the citizens and city leaders are both right. All three cities need a local police department and it’s an expensive proposition.
But what if Clay, Pinson, and Center Point, or any combination thereof, banded together to form a joint police department. We talk a lot about regional cooperation, but we have precious little to show for all the talk.
A shared municipal jail, judge and magistrate would be a lot more tolerable on each city budget. Since felony suspects are housed in the Jefferson County jail, a deal may be able to be worked out with Trussville to house misdemeanor detainees.
The contract deputy program hasn’t been bad for any of the three cities, but the concern of citizens has always been whether the program provided the full coverage that they want for their communities. With crime growing, so have the concerns of citizens. They want their own police officers and they want enough cops to keep them safe all of the time.
Mike Hale is now out as Jefferson County Sheriff. Will the contract deputy program continue? Will it be as effective as it has been in the past? Will the cost rise?
Speaking of Hale, is there a better candidate to be the first police chief of a new department? Will there ever be a better candidate?
He has operated one of the largest, if not the largest, sheriff’s offices in Alabama for 20 years.
He has four decades of law enforcement experience. He could easily navigate the waters of city, county, and state government. In short, he could build a police department from the ground up with both hands tied behind his back. And he’s a resident of the lovely city of Clay.
Don’t let his 67 birthdays fool you. There’s plenty of tread left on those tires.
This may be a good time to mention that none of this may be legal. It may require legislative approval. I have no idea. But that may also fall into the good timing column.
The local legislative representatives on both sides of the aisle are familiar with the area and the issues and they have the connections to make this happen. State senator Shay Shelnutt and state representatives Danny Garrett and Mary Moore all have the experience and clout to carry the idea to Montgomery and make it happen if city leaders decide to pull the trigger.
Maybe the timing, the person, and the plan is right. Like right now.