Merchants plead for heightened security

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 28, 2002

Bama Motors and River City Motors sit astride Jeff Davis Avenue, one on each side. Each sells clean used cars at modest prices. Nothing fancy, but not junk cars, either.

Through their combined dealers sales tax revenues, they generate a good bit of money for the city.

The two lots compete with each other on a friendly basis, but they also realize that being close together helps them attract more customers. If customers don’t find what they’re looking for at one lot, there’s a good chance they might find it at the other.

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It’s good for business.

Lately, though, the two lots have been attracting a different kind of attention, one that is decidedly not good for business. They’ve been among the targets of a rash of break-ins and thefts at car lots in the area in recent months.

“It’s just been within the last six months or better,” says Russell Hardy, Bama Motors general manager. “We’ve had radios stolen, cars broken into. We’ve had cars stolen. It’s just unreal.”

James Smitherman, owner of River City Motors, agrees. “It’s gotten worse in the last year,” he says. “The thing that really put the icing on it was when they broke in (Bama Motors) and threw the gate nearly out in the middle of Washington Street. The police told him they didn’t even know anything about it till he called and told them he’d been broke into.”

In that incident, which took place earlier this year, thieves knocked down a chain-link fence gate while gaining entrance to the lot. Although the fence lay in the street most of the night, no police patrols reported the break-in.

Says Hardy, “When they knocked that fence down, it lay in the street half the night and nobody noticed it. And they never noticed it because they don’t have enough officers. I tell you, it’s frustrating as hell.”

Even more frustrating for Smitherman and Hardy is the fact that no one in city government has expressed much concern with the problems the thefts are causing their businesses. It is, they say, as though no one cares.

“I guess they’re too good to call one of us and say ‘we’re working on it’ or ‘we’re going to take care of this,'” Smitherman says, fighting to control the anger in his voice. “At least, I haven’t heard from any of them.

Smitherman and Hardy say they sympathize with the difficulties that Selma Police Chief Robert Green faces in trying to patrol all areas of the city while his department is undermanned. And they appreciate his willingness to return to the streets to patrol with his officers at least a few nights a month. Still, they view that as a largely symbolic gesture unlikely to make a serious difference in the problem.

“It’s really aggravating to me that somebody can go on my property – or anybody’s property – and just steal,” Smitherman says. “We can’t say that if they added 10 more cars that it would fix the problem. But it would help.”

Hardy suggests that if the city is unable to find enough suitable potential police officers in this area, then perhaps it’s time to widen the search. “I believe if you’re fishing in a hole and ain’t catching no fish,” he says, “you need to move to another hole.”

Smitherman agrees. “It’s not about River City Motors. It’s not about Bama Motors. It’s not about these other car dealers. It’s about the citizens of Selma not being adequately protected at night,” he says.

“We all know that Selma’s struggling, business-wise. But if you’re seeing all this stuff going on – this thieving and robbing – I don’t think I’d want to bring my business in here. Somebody needs to do something.”