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Cooks raise money to help catch crooks

Two years ago Leadership Selma – Dallas County class XV was looking for a class project that would be a catalyst for positive change, one that would not only bring awareness to a need in the community but also institute positive change.

The class eventually settled on a project that would raise money to help fight crime by donating the proceeds of a fish fry to Crime Stoppers. Crime Stoppers is a program that awards money, up to $1,000, for tips that lead to an arrest for crimes that are committed.

Class XV representative Tommy Atchison’s late father Billy, along with Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman and Sgt. John Hatfield, helped create the program locally in 2004.

“Class XV decided collectively that this would be our group project because we felt that our energy and resources as a class should be focused on public safety,” Atchison said. “It’s in honor of my dad, because he was the person who spearheaded the program for Selma-Dallas County. We’re also happy that Leadership Class XVI has agreed to help us by making this one of their community projects and they have done an excellent job.”

Last year, the inaugural “Billy Atchison Memorial Fish Fry” reeled in more than $6,000 for the local Crime Stoppers program, and early ticket sales for Friday’s event lead organizers to believe this year’s fish fry will be even bigger.

“Last year we were ‘rookies,’ so to speak, at putting on an event like this,” Atchison said, adding that they’re planning on 1,000 dinners to be sold this year. “We had a couple of unexpected, logistical hurdles and we really did not expect the magnitude of people to come all at one time. It caused for a relatively long, hot wait in the May sun for some of the people who purchased tickets. This year, we are preparing for some of these things in advance, so hopefully, we’ll be able to get people served quicker.”

Since Crime Stoppers operates solely on donations, Dallas County Sheriff’s office Sgt. John Hatfield said fundraisers such as this helps ease the burden on local businesses, which have helped support the program through monetary donations.

“We typically have to ask businesses for money but Tommy came up with a brilliant idea for Leadership to raise money,” Hatfield said, adding that so far this year more than $3,000 has been paid out through Crime Stoppers to informants. “Tommy went to board president Henry Moore and asked him if Crime Stoppers would be interested and (Henry) jumped all over it.”

Hatfield said the Crime Stoppers tip line averages eight to ten tips per week, which are received through a dedicated telephone line the sheriff’s office pays for. Once the tip comes in and an arrest is made, the informant is asked to provide a four digit number that only they, Hatfield and a designated bank teller at Regions Bank knows.

“We take a check to Regions Bank and when the informant comes in they give their four digit number to a specific bank teller and the teller cashes the check and gives the informant the money,” Hatfield said, adding “The program is very successful as there is about an 80 percent conviction rate from the arrests made through this program.”

Each $8 fish meal comes with coleslaw, hushpuppies, chips and a desert. Pickup will be at the pavilion in Bloch Park from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Friday. Sponsors include KFC – Mark Woodson; Winn Dixie on Highland Avenue; Alabama Catfish Producers; Harvest Select, Uniontown; Vaughn Regional Medical Center; ALEX FM, WHBB, WDOX, The Selma Times-Journal, First Cahawba Bank, BankTrust, Calhoun Foods, Selma; and Cuttin’ Loose. Tickets are available from any Leadership Class member or at Truax and Co.