We need to find a better way

Published 10:41 pm Saturday, August 17, 2013

The saying goes that “numbers never lie.” For the most part that is true, and in this case, the numbers — rather the statistics — provide a very telling story for Selma.

Weeks ago, the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center released their annual report entitled “Crime in Alabama 2012.” This report provides a statistical breakdown of crime in every city and county within the state from the previous year and compares it against the year before that.

For Selma, 2012 was a very good year when it came to many of the crime categories. In most, Selma saw a drastic reduction from 2011. Overall, the Selma Police Department reported a reduction in crime of more than 20 percent.

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And, this reduction in crime was done with literally one hand being tied — rather handcuffed — behind the department’s back.

For years, the Selma Police Department has seen the rate of pay for its officers remain level while many other counties — including Dallas County — and area municipalities have found ways to pay their officers and deputies more.

For years, the Selma Police Department has seen the number of calls for service remain at high levels, only to see experienced officers head off to those departments that can both pay more and offer less hectic nights on duty.

And, for years, the Selma Police Department has been asked to patrol the city of Selma and surrounding police jurisdiction with a level of staffing well below what is needed and what has sometimes been budgeted.

Earlier this year, the Selma City Council discussed an idea of a sales tax increase to be able to give the city the financial means to pay emergency responders more. That was an idea we supported.

Instead, there was some determination by the council that this wasn’t possible and that any increase for one city employee should be provided to another city employee.

In the end, a sales tax increase was approved, but the pay increase was provided to all employees and will be determined later this year.

While we appreciate the council and mayor’s willingness to be fair to all, not all city employees are treated equal, nor should they.

Not all city employees are asked to wear body armor during their workdays. Not all city employees are asked to carry around a utility belt with pepper spray, ammunition, handgun, radio and more.

Not all city employees are asked to go into a dangerous situation at a moment’s notice without a thought of their own well-being.

After the state statistical report was released, Selma Chief of Police William T. Riley was very blunt in his analysis and reaction. He was proud of the work the officers, the detectives and investigators had done to reduce crime and praised the efforts of the community in providing valuable information that has led to multiple arrests and solved crimes.

Riley was also very blunt in saying, “what if?” “What if we were fully staffed,” Riley asked. “Just imagine if we had the number of officers on the force that we are supposed to have. Just imagine what could happen if we were able to offer our officers the pay that we should.”

We too ask “what if?”

What if the city council and mayor, who are entering the work on building the budget for next year, were to find a creative way to both fully staff and increase the pay of the Selma Police Department?

What if the city of Selma could have more officers on patrol in the so-called entertainment district, or rural areas of the city where crime appears to pop up from time to time?

What if the residents of Selma could go to sleep knowing their police department — the one their tax dollars pay for — not only had the best equipment but had more experienced officers and detectives and was better insulated from the inevitable year-end budget cuts?

Our police officers — and all of our first responders — deserve the very best we can provide them. They deserve our full support and the maximum effort on the part of our leaders to ensure they earn a competitive salary for their service they provide.

It is often said you get what you pay for. In the case of the citizens of Selma, our police department — in the results they have turned in — are providing a service far better than our leaders are paying for now.