County expects new burden if Anniston pulls patrols out of police jurisdiction
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
Apr 07, 2013 | 9682 views |  0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An Anniston police officer enters the city limits. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
An Anniston police officer enters the city limits. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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Richard Patty said he can think of a whole lot of reasons why the Anniston Police Department should continue to patrol in communities just outside of the city’s limits.

“I can think of about 2,000 guns they need to come protect,” said Patty, owner of Shotgun Sports Supply on U.S. 431 in Saks. “I don’t think they’d want them out in the streets.”

Patty said he worries that if Anniston moves forward with a City Council proposal to pull police officers out of the police jurisdiction and concentrate the force in city neighborhoods, it might leave businesses like his — less than a mile from the city limits — more vulnerable to crime.

If Anniston does pull back from the police jurisdiction, the responsibility for these areas would fall to the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office. The decision, which would require a vote by the Anniston City Council, will likely have both financial and staffing implications for the agencies. The move, city officials say, would concentrate the Police Department’s resources within the city in order to combat crime in its neighborhoods.

Nearly 19,800 people live in the 33 square miles beyond the city limits in Anniston’s police jurisdiction, according to figures from the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission. Communities in that category include Saks, Wellborn and parts of White Plains.

“It’s not a huge geographical area, but it’s very densely populated,” Sheriff Larry Amerson said.

In fact, the police jurisdiction outside of the city is more densely populated than Anniston, with 545 people per square mile to the city’s 506.

Spreading out

Anniston police Chief Shane Denham said that while city police officers do respond to a significant number of calls in the police jurisdiction, they don’t generally do a lot of preventive patrolling there.

Nevertheless, adding patrol territory to the Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction could stretch an already thin force over an even greater area, Amerson said.

The No. 1 priority of his office, said the sheriff, “is ensuring the safety of the people we serve, and we would not want to see any decrease in the level of protection the people living in those areas have.”

But a challenge for deputies, said Amerson, is the distance they must cover in the county: Amerson said members of his office drove 1.7 million miles last year.

The distance can result in longer response times. If a deputy near Piedmont receives a call for service in White Plains, he said, it’s likely that deputy would have to drive 20 miles to respond to the call.

“That’s typical,” he said. “The issue is population density and the number of officers you have.”

Effect on crime

Jerry Ratcliffe, chair of the Criminal Justice Department at Temple University in Philadelphia, said there is a good chance a move like the one Anniston is contemplating could help reduce crime in the city, as long the Police Department uses the officers properly.

“Having police officers helps, but increasingly researchers will tell you, within reason, it’s not about how many police officers you have but how you use them,” he said.

In this case, he added, the city would be well served pulling out of the police jurisdiction and focusing on where violent crime is happening.

Elizabeth Groff, a colleague of Ratcliffe’s who specializes in geographical policing, said the key to such “hot spots policing” seems to be targeting very small areas — two to three streets — where crime is a problem. “There is a big body of research that shows that is effective in reducing crime,” she said.

Community relations can also be improved by adding more officers in the neighborhoods, particularly on foot patrol, she said, “as long as they are policing in a way that is respectful to the community.”

An increased police presence and proactive patrolling could have a deterrent effect, even if officers don’t see crime happening right in front of them, Ratcliffe said. If officers are stopping and talking to people in neighborhoods, locals will probably be less likely to carry illegal guns or engage in criminal activity, she said.

History repeats itself

If the council elects to confine police to the city limits, it won’t be the first time.

For a six-month period in 2008, county deputies took over patrol in Anniston’s police jurisdiction.

“We understand what would be required to accomplish that, and we’re certainly doing some pre-planning to make some preparation if they do in fact make that decision,” Amerson said.

The deputies’ workload increased considerably when the county took over Anniston’s police jurisdiction, with calls for service rising during that time, according to Lt. Jon Garlick of the Sheriff’s Office.

Garlick compared average monthly calls for service during that six-month period in 2008 to monthly averages from the 2012 fiscal year. Garlick said that the increases could be more drastic now, since calls for service have been on the rise in recent years.

Dispatches — or responses to calls for service — during those six months were 45 percent higher than last year, with a monthly average of 3,151 compared to last year’s monthly average of 2,175.

In the entire 2012 fiscal year, Anniston police answered more than 23,600 calls for service, according to Denham. Of those, 4,721 were outside the city limits, which amounts to a monthly average of 393.

Financial implications

Anniston and other cities that provide protection in police jurisdictions beyond their borders have the ability to collect some sales tax and other revenue from the police jurisdiction, though less than they collect within their borders.

“The problem comes in for the county when we absorb new territory,” he said. “There’s not a corresponding way for the county to fund those services delivered.”

Anniston Finance Director Danny McCullars said the city is subsidizing the services in the police jurisdiction considerably.

The city brings in about $1.37 million in revenue from sales, regulatory, and excise taxes in the police jurisdiction, he said. Of that, about $70,000 comes from the fire protection tax. An additional $830,300 comes from sales, use and lodging tax — about 4.4 percent of the total revenue from that category of almost $18.8 million.

Based solely on the percentage of calls the two departments respond to in the jurisdiction — 20 percent for police, 30 for fire — McCullars estimates about $2.89 million in city resources are devoted to the police jurisdiction from the two departments — $1.27 million and $1.6 million for police and fire, respectively — while recovering less than half of that amount through revenue collections there.

By comparison, the county collected $3.7 million from its 2 percent rural sales tax, money that is earmarked for roads and bridges, County Administrator Ken Joiner said. The majority of the county’s budget comes from property tax, which amounted to about $5.5 million last year, Joiner said.

Anniston Fire Department Chief Tony Taylor said that as far as he knows, there has been no discussion of his department pulling out of the police jurisdiction “simply for the fact that if we pull out, there’s no one else to cover it.”

According to Taylor, about 30 percent of the Fire Department’s 5,100 calls during the 2012 fiscal year occurred in the police jurisdiction.

But County Administrator Ken Joiner said the county would prefer to handle fire as well as police protection if it must take over the jurisdiction.

“If they’re going to pull back, it certainly would be our preference to pull back everything and just let us have the money and work out fire coverage and arrange protection,” he said

Joiner said the county isn’t talking about new taxes to handle the increased cost of patrolling the area, which he pegged at between $600,000 and $800,000 annually. He added that he’s not entirely sure whether the county can even legally levy certain taxes in the police jurisdiction without legislation.

Trying to find a way to provide and fund services in the potentially new territory, he said, “just provides a whole new gamut of things to look at and think about.”

Manpower

For Denham, if the City Council makes the change, “it will definitely be an improvement and a step in the right direction,” he said.

Denham said that on average, between seven and 10 officers are on patrol at any given time in the city. With the change, he said he expects more of those patrol officers can concentrate on particular problem areas, such as night patrols checking out burglary hot spots.

With more flexibility, he said, the department will also be able to do more work with residents who want to work proactively to prevent crime in their neighborhoods. “We’re more than happy to do that, too,” he said, but noted that tends to be a labor-intensive process.

But Denham expects the change in jurisdiction would also ease the burden on the department’s officers.

“The work load has been terrible,” he said. “That’s part of our retention problem.”

Denham said manpower is always an issue for his department. “We typically have been a training ground in years past for other agencies,” he said.

When the department is up to a full complement, it has 96 police officers. But Denham said department leaders can’t hire officers fast enough. Seven new hires graduated from the police academy last week, but at the moment, nine positions are unfilled. In recent weeks, two officers gave notice they would be leaving to join the Oxford Police Department, and he said others are actively applying for work elsewhere.

“The main thing they’re worried about is how much they’re making today,” he said, noting that a couple thousand dollars can make a difference to young officers. A newly hired Anniston officer starts at just more than $29,800. By comparison, starting deputies with the Sheriff’s Office make $28,660, according to Stephen Goodwin, chief clerk for the office. Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge said rookie officers with no experience start at slightly more than $34,000 in his department.

For the Sheriff’s Office, some of the deputies’ unique court-based duties add to the workload. Deputies, Amerson said, served 13,741 civil papers and 3,511 arrest warrants last year.

At the moment, the sheriff added, his 55-deputy force provides two deputies dedicated to serving civil court papers and two more stationed at the courthouse for security, plus seven school resource officers and eight investigators, leaving about six deputies per shift to patrol the county’s jurisdiction.

Amerson said his office would need to hire about 16 additional deputies to handle the additional volume from the police jurisdiction. The Sheriff’s Office operates four rotations of deputies, for which Amerson said two additional deputies would be needed. In addition to those eight patrol deputies, he said, personnel calculations take into account additional coverage for the vacation, holiday and training time. Included in the increase are at least four more investigators, which the sheriff said would be needed to investigate the additional cases.

Amerson said there will also likely be a need for more dispatchers to handle the increased calls and crimes. “When your calls for service go up,” he said, “somebody’s got to answer the phone and process the calls.”

Amerson noted that Anniston patrols only the city with nearly 100 officers, while his office covers the entire county with 55.

“If we’re only going to ask for 15 or 16 more,” he said, “that’s a bargain.”

Future action

Mayor Vaughn Stewart said the City Council is hoping to take up the issue of the police jurisdiction next month. If the council passes the measure, city police won’t exit the police jurisdiction right away. Stewart said the city won’t implement the measure until at least after the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.

The move could also be held over a bit longer, he said, “depending on how much time the county needs to beef up its deputy patrols.”

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

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