City considers pulling police and fire jurisdiction back

Published 7:59 pm Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Selma City Council is considering the pros and cons of pulling back its police and fire jurisdiction to the city limits.

The council held a work session Wednesday with Selma Police Chief John Brock, Selma Fire Chief Toney Stephens and Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman.

Brock said he favors pulling back the jurisdiction so officers can focus on policing the city limits.

Email newsletter signup

There have been previous hearings and meetings on the idea over the years but no action has ever been taken. Brock said the issue has been discussed on and off since he was a dispatcher in the 70s.

“We have always talked about the jurisdiction and how we need to get back to the city limits, Brock said. “Our emphasis is inside the city limits so there’s where we [need to be].”

Under the state law, the city could pull the police and fire jurisdiction from three miles back to one and a half miles. The Dallas County’s Sheriff’s Department and various volunteer fire departments would pick up the difference.

Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman said he is opposed to the idea.

“There are 67 sheriffs in the state of Alabama and every one of them is against it,” Huffman said.

The hot topic has been proposed in other cities across the state, most recently and notably in Mobile.

Huffman said the city police department has 31 uniformed officers, while he has 17, with three of those being part-time.

“That leaves 14 deputies to cover 976 square miles. Presently, the city of Selma with their three-mile jurisdiction is 13 square miles,” Huffman said.

The sheriff’s office is also responsible for providing security at the Dallas County Courthouse and serving warrants and other papers throughout the city and county.

Capt. Mike Granthum said his department is currently studying the issue and might be able to make it work. Businesses in the jurisdiction pay half of the sales tax and license fees that a business inside the city limits does.

“We think there is enough tax base over there to do what we need to do,” Granthum said.

Still, Huffman said the sheriff’s office would need to hire four more deputies and a detective and he doesn’t think the county commission would approve that expense.

Huffman said the biggest difference might actually concern fire projection and that homeowners and businesses in the jurisdiction should expect an increase in their insurance premiums if the pullback becomes a reality.

“I really feel like the citizens would be getting the shaft a little bit because of the fire protection,” Huffman said. “Their insurance rates will probably double. It’s going to cost them a lot of money, and there’s going to be a lot of hard feelings.”

Selma Fire Chief Toney Stephens is also against a change, saying it could jeopardize the department’s grants or mutual aid agreements.

“From a fire standpoint, I’m in disagreement. I really don’t support that idea,” Stephens said. “We are going to spend a lot of money trying to make up for the things we will lose if we stop.”

Brock said pulling back the jurisdiction shouldn’t impact any mutual aid agreements.

City Councilman Cecil Williamson has estimated providing services costs the city about $500,000 more than it makes off sales tax and businesses licenses. However, Brock said those expenses would not go away unless there were cuts to the department.

“But we would have more protection,” Brock said.

The police chief said pulling back would allow the department to focus on the city limits.

“Three of the last murders we have had have been across the river,” Brock said.

During one of these investigations, four out of five officers on patrol were at the crime scene along with a supervisor, leaving one officer on patrol on the Selma side of the bridge.

“One officer for the whole city of Selma and the police jurisdiction,” Brock said.

Moving the jurisdiction back inside city limits would also lower the city’s crime stats as reported to the FBI. Those stats have ranked the city has one of the most dangerous in Alabama.

“Everything we do over there counts against the crime totals,” Brock said.

Shannon Etheridge with the Curb Market in Selmont said the issue has been brought repeatedly over the years.

“Shrinking it in to a mile and a half is not going to affect us. In my opinion, I would just cut it out altogether,” Etheridge said.