Since 2010 roadway fatalities in our state have risen an alarming 155%, while at the same time Alabama has dropped State Trooper staffing to a third of the level it should be. According to the State Troopers Association, fewer than 300 Troopers patrol the entire state, a number that should be closer to 750 according to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, and should be more than 1000 according to the Center for Advanced Public Safety at the University of Alabama. This dwindling number of front-line defenders are patrolling our highways in vehicles that are up to ten years old and with such high mileage that used car dealers are alarmed.
One Trooper was quoted as saying, "The main thing is we need to be highly visible ... people need to see troopers on a regular basis to prevent crashes before they happen." But the truth is that drivers on Alabama roads see far too few State Troopers.
These dismal numbers are part of the reason Alabama was ranked 43rd by U.S. News & World Report on public safety. That goes along with being ranked 44th in low violent crime rate and 3rd worst for murder rate, all added to more than a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of property stolen in Alabama with only $42 million recovered.
Luckily the professionals that serve as State Troopers are supplemented by municipal police departments and sheriffs’ offices, or else we would be in worse shape than we are. But we cannot continue to ask one State Trooper to do the work of three, and currently that’s what we’re doing. We must find ways in each budget year to fund more State Troopers until we get to the level needed to keep Alabama safe.
In the most recently available data, there were more than 270 law enforcement agencies in Alabama in 2016 that employed over 20,000 personnel, including almost 14,000 sworn officers. Despite the embarrassing staffing level of State Troopers, these numbers put Alabama above the national average in officers per capita, which means state government is relying on the sheriffs’ offices and municipal police departments to keep statewide law enforcement staffing up.
But even as we rely on municipal police departments, we hinder them by prohibiting police departments in cities of fewer than 19,000 population from enforcing speeding laws on our interstate highways. That means that more than 70% of local police departments are prohibited from assisting State Troopers in enforcing the most basic of traffic laws. Even though most of these municipalities may not have an interstate highway running through them, we unnecessarily tie the hands of those that do. With appropriate safeguards built in to prohibit unfair speed traps, this law must be repealed to make our highways safer.
In the City of Tuscaloosa, where I’ve been mayor since 2005, we’ve had tremendous success in promoting and improving public safety. Over the past 10 years, my administration has overseen a 45% decrease in burglaries, 42% decrease in auto thefts, 35% decrease in murders, and 18% decrease in robberies. Tuscaloosa Police Department is one of the best trained and equipped law enforcement agencies in Alabama, maintaining strong community involvement through the Police Athletic League (PAL) led by Olympic Champion Lillie Leatherwood, a juvenile crime prevention program that places police officers with at-risk youth through athletics, educational activities, and cultural trips; the Teen and Police Service Academy (TAPS), a successful mentoring program that reduces social friction between at-risk youth and law enforcement; and the Citizens’ Police Academy, which immerses citizen attendees in hands on and role-playing exercises related to current issues impacting law enforcement.
Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Service has recently partnered with the University of Alabama Medical Center to develop a first-of-its-kind in Alabama program called Appropriate Care and Treatment In Our Neighborhoods (ACTION). This highly successful initiative responds to the less critical medical needs of the community by placing nurse practitioners, physician assistants, social workers and behavioral health providers alongside traditional rescue personnel to render appropriate response to 911 calls by treating medical needs at the scene, thereby providing more effective and efficient responses and frequently avoiding expensive transports to the emergency room.
Through strategic thinking and bold leadership, we can take steps to improve public safety across the state of Alabama.