At its Thursday work session, Mayor Vaughn Stewart presented a three-part approach that includes pulling police out of the jurisdictional area extending three miles outside city limits and letting the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office handle matters in that territory. According to the mayor, approximately 20-25 percent of the department’s calls occur in the police jurisdiction.
“If we have a crime issue in this city — and I think we do — then we’re going to do a much better job preventing crime, deterring crime and being more proactive with boots on the ground,” he said.
Stewart said the move would help reallocate the city’s resources and concentrate the city’s officers in its neighborhoods.
Councilman Seyram Selase noted that council members learned during their listening tour, especially in Ward 2 and Ward 3, that residents were concerned about crime in their neighborhoods and how to obtain a more visible police presence.
“This is a great way for that to happen,” he said.
Selase also mentioned the recent shooting at Barber Terrace and how disheartening it was that the 21-year-old victim did not cooperate with the police department. Bridging that gap and building relationships in the neighborhoods, he said, might help stop the street policy of “no snitching.”
Statistics show certain types of crime are on the rise in the city.
Assaults have increased the past three years, climbing by 18 percent (from 1,379 to 1,627) over that time, although the five-year high was the 1,710 assaults that occurred in 2009.
Last year’s figure for theft—1,504 incidents— was a five-year high, something Acting Chief Shane Denham attributes to the rise in copper prices.
The number of homicides in the city hovered around five, with spikes in 2011 (12) and 2008 (15).
There are some bright spots for the city: Both sexual assaults and motor vehicle thefts have significantly decreased over the past five years, with less than half the incidents reported last year than in 2008.
Robberies, which have hovered around 90 per year for the past three years, are down significantly from 2008’s figure of 177.
Councilman Jay Jenkins noted that moving the department out of the police jurisdiction is not a new idea and has in fact been done before and then repealed.
“I can support it as long as I know it’s a smooth transition, and I think it will be knowing the will of this body,” Jenkins said.
Stewart said the move wouldn’t happen before Oct. 1, the beginning of both the city’s and county’s new fiscal year, to give the county time to make any adjustments in its force if necessary.
Denham said the city already has a standing policy to back up the sheriff’s office when needed and would have no problem continuing to back up the deputies if the county took over the current police jurisdiction.
Additional proposals include fostering the development of neighborhood associations with corresponding crime watch zones and implementing a “homes for heroes” program. The associations, said Stewart, could serve simply as a means of getting to know one’s neighbors, beautifying the area or creating crime watch zones. From the neighborhood associations, he said, the council could appoint a neighborhood advisory council to work with the city on ideas for improving its neighborhoods.
A homes for heroes program would give landlords incentives to donate an apartment or house in which rookie police officers and firefighters can live. This, he said, would put public safety officers into the neighborhoods they serve and help build connections with residents.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.