Security in Selma a growing concern

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 28, 2002

Understanding the problems facing the Selma Police Department would be much easier if the Mayor of Selma could discuss those problems. Trouble is, he can’t.

“I don’t even feel comfortable talking about the police department,” said Mayor James Perkins Jr. “When I try to make constructive changes or offer constructive criticism, I get accused of micro-managing the department. What am I supposed to do?”

The bitter reality is that Selma’s police force appears to have a problem offering security in this city. Some police officers asked that the department’s lack of manpower not be published. They cited the recent robbery at SouthTrust Bank as their reason.

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“Those robbers just walked in there and handed the teller a piece of paper,” one officer said. “They aren’t scared of us.”

Selma’s police force is down by at least 15 officers and there’s no way to skate that fact.

“I just don’t know what I can say about it,” Perkins said. “At present, I don’t have any control over the police department.”

Much of Perkins’ sentiment goes back to March of this year when he wanted to hire a consultant to take an in-depth look at the city’s police department and its operations. The Selma City Council, which has the power to appoint department heads, did not feel Perkins’ strategy was necessary and they promoted then-Asst. Chief Robert Green into the chief of police position upon the retirement of E.L. Tate.

Ever since then, the relationship between Perkins and Green has been rocky, at best.

“It’s never been a personal issue between Green and me,” Perkins said. “It was just a management strategy that the council closed the door on.”

In essence, Perkins said he has all but given up on trying to manage the police department because he takes so much political heat for making police decisions. Sometimes, the political heat appears to have no merit.

On March 14, Perkins issued a “directive” to then-Chief Tate about the shortage of officers in the police department.

“I hereby direct you to reassign all officers to the patrol division who currently perform non-patrol duties,” Perkins said in his memo.

In essence, Perkins wanted police officers who work behind a desk to take to the streets.

The backlash was immense. City council members and members of the police force attacked Perkins for trying to “micro-manage” the police department.

“They never acted on my directive,” Perkins said. “But I couldn’t punish anyone because the council wouldn’t back me up if I did.”

What happened next came as ironic to the mayor. On July 15, Green made a change in his police department. He said all police officers who currently work behind a desk will be required to work patrol one day each month.

“That’s a significant part to this whole story,” Perkins said. “That was a directive I had ordered and I was trounced on by the city council.”

Rita Sims Franklin, president pro tem of the council and chair of the public safety committee, said the reason Perkins took so much heat was because of his delivery.

“There’s a whole lot of difference in issuing an order and making a suggestion,” Franklin said. “When you start ordering people around, you take away their dignity.”

Obviously, Perkins’ request was carried out by the police department. But that doesn’t always mean Perkins is on the right side of the argument.

Just last week, Perkins issued a press release stating that the police department would aid retail store merchants with bad/stolen checks via a fax machine. That fax machine, which would be programmed with all retail store fax numbers, would be able to send out stolen and bad check information to all participating merchants in the local area.

Green, who had been on vacation for a week, came back to Selma on Friday and discovered this new program. Only problem is, Green doesn’t know anything about the fax machine or the new program.

“I got back this afternoon, I looked on the front page of the [Times-Journal], and I was surprised to see my picture on there,” Green said Friday. “I did not know anything about any fax machine, nor have I received any correspondence from [the mayor] asking me to purchase a fax machine. This is the first I have heard anything about this.”

Green believes Perkins should have met with him before making a public announcement about the program.

“He knew I was on vacation this week,” Green said. “We should have had a meeting about this” before he issued the announcement.

Though there is obviously a communication problem between Perkins and Green, Selma City Councilwoman Jean Martin believes all hope is not lost.

“Sometimes, I don’t think we give the mayor enough room to operate,” she said. “We desperately need a police department where the chief and the mayor can get together and plan together.”

According to Franklin, Green has tried to do that with Perkins.

At a council meeting shortly after Green became chief, the city council and mayor were presented with an in-depth plan of Green’s goals for the police department.

“Chief Green gave every member of the council one of those plans, and he also gave one to the mayor,” Franklin said. “They mayor just gave it right back to him.”

Franklin and Martin both believe Green needs to be given a year to make changes in the police department.

“A majority of the council appointed him chief, so he needs to be given time,” said Martin, who did not vote for Green’s appointment as chief.

Perkins also wants to help but says he’s hamstrung in making decisions that might improve the department.

When asked to reassure the public that they will be protected, Perkins said he didn’t know how to do that.

“How can I reassure the merchants when I don’t have any jurisdiction?” he asked. “But at what cost should I try to do that? Is it going to do more harm than good if I try” to take some of that authority?

Perkins said there is a solution.

“The council needs to back off before I can do anything,” he said.

Regardless of what the council decides or how Perkins works with Green, one thing is abundantly clear: Somebody needs to do something.