No details of report to cut, consolidate state law enforcement
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Dec 10, 2012 | 5624 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — A state task force report, due on the desk of Gov. Robert Bentley this weekend, will recommend ways to cut the state's law enforcement spending by 10 percent, most likely by combining some of the state's 22 law enforcement agencies.

Members of the Integrated State Law Enforcement Task Force aren't yet saying what would be cut under the proposal. And even some of the law enforcement advisors to the task force say they have only a vague outline of what the report will contain.

"It should put us in line with our neighboring states that have already done this," said Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith.

Smith sits on one of two task forces appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley this summer to look at ways to cut duplication in the state's law enforcement agencies.

The state operates nearly two dozen different agencies with some sort of law enforcement function. Some are within the Department of Public Safety — the agency that runs the Alabama Bureau of Investigations and the Alabama State Troopers.

Others operate under the auspices of departments people don't always associate with law enforcement. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, for instance, operates a Marine Police Division, and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board employs 133 sworn agents, according to the agency's website.

Republican leaders have been talking about consolidating law enforcement functions since the party took the Legislature in 2010.

Earlier this year, Bentley appointed an Integrated State Law Enforcement Task Force to study how that consolidation should be done — with a mandate to report back by Dec. 15. Bentley also appointed an advisory committee, consisting of state law enforcement officers, to work with the committee on its recommendations.

Smith, the Escambia County sheriff, was appointed to that advisory committee to represent the interests of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, of which he is president. He said the committee met only a few times, and he said the task force seemed to be ready to eliminate higher-level managers, leaving only one cabinet-level officer to speak for law enforcement.

"Having one voice for law enforcement makes sense," he said.

Smith said he didn't know enough to say whether all law enforcement agencies would be directly under that cabinet-level position, or to go into detail about which agencies would be combined or how much money would be saved by the change. He said the board would likely recommend the phase-out of some positions, probably through retirement.

Members of the task force itself wouldn't confirm or deny those predictions.

"It would be irresponsible to talk about it," said Gunter Guy, commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Guy wouldn't comment on whether the law enforcement agencies in his department would move to another department under the change.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Ridling also declined to comment, saying the report had not been released yet.

The task force is headed by Spencer Collier, director of the Department of Homeland Security. Collier's spokeswoman, Leah Garner, said the report would go to the governor Dec. 15 and would be released at his discretion after that.

None of the meetings of the task force were announced on the Alabama Open Meetings Act website, the state's online venue for announcing public meetings.

Dennis Bailey, an attorney for the Alabama Press Association, said in an e-mail to The Star that a phrase in the executive order creating the task force may be intended to keep the Open Meetings Act from applying to the task force. That phrase says that "nothing herein should be interpreted as creating a governing body or board."

T.J. Phillips, president of the Alabama branch of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he'd heard about the proceedings but hadn't been invited to see the task force at work.

"I would have gone, if somebody had asked me," said Phillips, whose organization represents municipal police, sheriff’s deputies and state law enforcement agents.

Madison police Chief Larry Muncey said he was a member of the advisory committee, but was invited to only one meeting, which he couldn't attend because of work conflicts.

"I wish I could tell you more," he said.

Boaz police Chief Terry Davis, another advisory committee member, also said he wasn't sure what the final recommendation would be.

A similar task force, convened in the spring by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, recommended trimming 22 agencies down to several broader agencies, with a projected $260 million savings over 10 years.

Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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