Selma Police focus of study

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 1, 2007


A comprehensive study of the Selma Police Department will determine the needs, strengths and weaknesses of the Department of Public Safety, which has been under fire lately with accusations of police brutality and the exodus of experienced officers.

The Selma City Council approved the payment of $48,000 to Public Safety Consultants, Inc., a Wetumpka firm that has been hired to assess the police department. Several members of the City Council have been critical of Police Chief Jimmy Martin, and recent allegations of police brutality have given them ammunition.

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Dr. Ralph Ioimo, who has been in law enforcement since 1972, said his firm may get started “as early as next week.”

A March 16 incident between several unnamed officers attempting to arrest a 20-year-old honor student after he failed to stop for a traffic violation enraged family members, after his 64-year-old grandfather was arrested and maced for reportedly intervening with police during the arrest.

The former Alabama State University student, Kourtney Gordon, and his grandfather, Walter Hollman, were both arrested. Gordon was charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Hollman was charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. They were released on $1,000 bond.

City officials entertained the idea of studying the police department four years ago, but declined to move for ward since Mayor James Perkins Jr. said there was “a conflict of interest.” The principal of the firm to conduct the study was a professor of former Chief Robert Green’s instructor.

Turnover within the department is visible. Three new police officers – Matthew Smyly, Jason Crum and Eugene Ellis – were sworn in on Tuesday. Two seasoned members of the detectives division are retiring over the next several months – Det. Al Blackmon and Det. Sandra Washburn. Det. Mamie Haile has recently retired.

Council President George Evans said the assessment “couldn’t be more timely.”

“I don’t know that if we’d allowed the study while (Chief) Green was here we would be where we are today or not,” Evans said.

The incident, along with the exit of experienced officers, means the assessment would be even more meaningful now, according to Councilman Reid Cain.

“There’s a lot of things that have been going on that need to be corrected,” Cain said. “We’ve had nothing but hindrances and delays. It appears to be getting worse.”

Martin, who retired from a career in the military, said he felt good about the assessment of his department, and he was looking forward to it. He said he was “a true believer” in paramilitary structure.

“I think the study will be good for the police department. It’s going to be very interesting,” Martin said. “I hope there are some features that will be brought out on things such as our manpower, staffing of personnel and our procedures.

The company’s five-page proposal included a timeline for what is expected during the 90-day assessment.

The items to be covered include discipline and internal affairs, along with an integrity study where the company will analyze civilian complaints submitted to the chief “to determine potential patterns of abuse or corruption,” according to the company’s proposal.

The proposed study will also assess training and personnel management, which will include the system and processes used to recruit, evaluate, promote, demote, transfer and retain personnel, according to the proposal.

The City of Selma has been actively recruiting police officers and new firefighters.

Several departments throughout the South, including the Montgomery Police Department, have been using incentives such as paying for officers to attend college.

The newly-accepted plan of analysis will also make recommendations through a corrective action plan, which will offer both short and long term plans of action “expected to produce measurable results” over 180 days to a year.

In 1972, Ioimo became a police officer in Simi Valley, Ca., where he was promoted to the rank of assistant chief. He has worked as a consultant since 1983, and has assisted police departments from Fairbanks, Alaska, to St. Petersburg, Fla.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Ioimo said. “We want to get a complete assessment, that includes community input. We’re going to try to gauge how close the two are to one another. I’m not a traditionalist. I don’t believe traditional policing isn’t working any more. Police departments all over are having to change how they do business.”

Ioimo said he’s not coming to injure the department in any way. “I’m coming to help Selma,” he said. “Where there’s room for improvement, I’m going to call that out too.”