Tuscaloosa: Operation Safe City
Crime and public safety are important issues every mayor in America must be concerned about. They are especially important here in Tuscaloosa. All you have to do is ask and people in Tuscaloosa will tell you that they are worried about the recent uptick in crime across the city.
I’ve asked, I’ve listened, and I’ve heard the people speak. The people have legitimate concerns about Tuscaloosa’s public safety, and I have a plan to address their concerns.
As mayor, I will attack crime head-on with the best trained, best equipped, and best led force of officers in this state, if not the nation. My vision of Tuscaloosa as a great city cannot become a reality without a strong, professional police force that’s second to none.
Public safety is not just a matter of hiring more police and making more arrests. True public safety is a process that involves the mayor and city council, police chief and his officers, other surrounding municipalities’ law enforcement and first responders, firefighters, emergency medical services, local courts, the Prosecutor’s office, and, when needed, close integration with emergency/disaster management services.
I will work with every first responder chief or department head to see that immediate needs are met, long-term goals are supported, and my vision for a safer, more secure Tuscaloosa becomes a reality starting on day one of my administration. As mayor, I will make a special effort to increase the levels of coordination and cooperation between the TPD, Tuscaloosa Sheriff Ron Abernathy, and his deputies.
As mayor, I will act to lower crime rates and to increase public safety and security by increasing involvement in local communities by police and other first responders. I understand this will require a higher level of trust of the police and others by the people of our communities, and that this trust must be earned and consist of a mutual responsibility and exchange between the police and the communities they are called to protect and serve. Earning this trust won’t happen overnight, but I am committed to doing whatever it takes to deliver trustworthy services to the citizens of every district of Tuscaloosa.
I am committed to improving public safety and security for every resident of Tuscaloosa, first by earning the trust of the people of Tuscaloosa by providing better, faster services in all areas of the city, then by leveraging that trust to build stronger communities that will work with City service providers for the benefit of all concerned.
For All First Responders (Police, Firefighters, 911 Center, Emergency Medical Personnel)
Must have the tools, equipment, and facilities they need to do their jobs efficiently and safely
Must have adequate and appropriate training for the unique challenges not only of COVID but also for today’s culture and expectations
Must have ongoing, effective, and regular professional development opportunities to stay current in their fields
Must have adequate and appropriate management and planning support
Must be committed to serving in and engaging with the communities where they live
Must be committed to serving all areas of the city equally, with the same dedication to Rapid, Effective, Aware, Cooperative, Transparent service across Tuscaloosa
REACT will be the cornerstone of my plan to give Tuscaloosa the world-class safety we deserve as we make Tuscaloosa a truly great city for ourselves and our children.
“A person who picks up the phone and calls 911 can expect the same response, and same response time, regardless of where in Tuscaloosa they live.” - Martin Houston
For Police Officers
Our patrolling police officers are the first line “boots on the ground” who bear the single greatest responsibility for our safety. We rely on them not only to investigate crimes and arrest criminals, but to deter crime with their presence, provide assistance in emergencies, summon and coordinate other first responders as needed, de-escalate potentially dangerous situations, and (occasionally) keep children and small animals out of mischief.
I will ask every member of the police force, from the chief to the newest rookie, to be proactive rather than reactive in engaging with our city and our community. Our officers need to know their communities, and the communities need to know them so that members of the community know they can approach any and all TPD Officers when they have knowledge about crimes being planned or committed in their neighborhoods. I will lead our Tuscaloosa Police Department by example in this, not only with my open-door policy for all citizens but by inviting the chief of police and deputies to have a similar policy. Additionally, as mayor, I will be fully engaged and regularly attend community events and will invite our TPD leadership and rank and file to do the same.
We also rely on the chief of police and the leadership of the police department to guide patrol officers by setting policies and protocols, coordinating ongoing training, and being the face of the department in all circumstances. I will work with the chief and his leadership team from the first day of my administration to give the TPD the full and unwavering support they must have to lead the world-class force Tuscaloosa deserves.
“I have always supported our police officers, and as mayor, I will continue to do so, while challenging them to uphold the highest standards of their calling to protect and to serve.” - Martin Houston
As mayor, I will work with the chief of police, the assistant chiefs, and all TPD leaders to increase the support given to the department, especially that support given to patrolling officers. I will also work with TPD leadership to bolster engagement and cooperation between our communities, the department, the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Department, and surrounding communities.
As the county seat and economic center of the area, Tuscaloosa must lead in being a model and example of what a safe, secure city can be so that the region can reach its full potential. It is no exaggeration to say that as Tuscaloosa goes, so goes Tuscaloosa County. If we fail to do so, Tuscaloosa’s crime will spill over into our neighboring towns and their crime into ours, and this would be to the detriment of the entire county.
One of the main goals is to increase effective community policing in every part of Tuscaloosa. To me, community policing isn’t just a catchphrase, but is a process where:
Officers know their communities and are known by the community
Officers are actively engaged in their communities, not just “driving through”
Officers and community members know they can rely on each other
Officers and community members work together for the good of their community
Officers and community members are partners in making their communities safer, better places for everyone to live, work, worship, and raise their families
This policy of increasing effective community policing begins by filling any openings in the police department, as they occur, with qualified, committed individuals who are willing to become part of the communities they serve. I understand that an understaffed police department creates increased stress on officers and the department that must be alleviated as rapidly as possible. One of my first questions to the TPD as mayor will be about the appropriateness of their current staffing levels, and what the city can do to see that the TPD has the people and positions they need to effectively serve the residents of Tuscaloosa.
I will bring together police and other first responder leaders, community leaders, and other stakeholders to explore and develop public-private partnerships to increase effective police patrol coverage in areas of special need or vulnerability. I will hold regular meetings of these stakeholder-centric groups across the city to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of these partnerships, changing circumstances, and adjust the allocation of resources as appropriate as situations change over time, as they inevitably do.
We will work to establish, train, and equip special units focused on identifying localized hot spots of crime and activity. These special units will bolster regular patrols and aid in eliminating problem “hot spots” before they can grow and spread throughout entire neighborhoods.
As soon as possible after being elected mayor, I will meet with the chief of police and his leadership team to revisit the practice of providing police escorts for funerals. If this is at all feasible, we will work to make this service once again available to the community.
I will also allow off-duty officers to provide security for local businesses, venues, and events, so long as this does not interfere with their regular duties, as allowed by state and local laws. Allowing officers to fill their off-duty hours as security where they can “see and be seen” and interact with the community in a more relaxed setting will foster better relationships between our local businesses, their patrons, and our officers. We want our citizens to have fun in a safe environment, and who better to provide this safety than the highly trained officers of the TPD? This policy will also benefit the officers personally, increasing their income and giving them better relationships with the people they serve.
Drugs, both synthetic and otherwise, have become a plague upon the nation. We must protect our children and loved ones from this evil. I will strengthen our police department’s focus on stopping dangerous synthetic drugs and opiates. I will work to provide more funding, especially state and federal grants, to the narcotics division. I will also work with local and county officials to expand funding for drug courts and counseling centers, to provide treatment for those who suffer from substance use and addiction rather than just incarcerating and forgetting about them.
Human trafficking, prostitution, and child trafficking are all critical issues facing our nation and our state. The I-59/I-20 interstate is a major thoroughfare human traffickers use, and Tuscaloosa’s position along this corridor makes our active participation in these efforts essential. I will work with city, county, and state officials to bring more funding to the TPD and our West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force. We must continue to protect our friends and neighbors from these heinous crimes.
Frequently, our police officers are being called on to deal with mentally ill citizens who, because of their illness, are disruptive or dangerous to themselves and their neighbors. It is estimated that the TPD will receive as many as 1000 mental health-related calls in 2021, and without intervention, this number will only go higher in years to come. Along with bolstering the recently commissioned Mental Health Division, I will strive to see that all officers and other first responders have adequate training in how to de-escalate these situations and the most appropriate ways to secure the safety of all involved. I will also work to improve communication and protocols between police, medical and mental health professionals to improve access to appropriate treatment for these individuals. I am committed to working with the state to build a fourth crisis diversion center for mentally ill persons in crisis, to provide better treatment in an appropriate environment while lessening the burden on local emergency rooms and jails.
We must improve our efforts at reducing rates of recidivism, relapse, and a return to criminal behavior, especially after a first offense. In conjunction with police and first responder leadership, community leaders, and stakeholders, including our private businesses and educational systems, I will insist that we begin developing vocational programs for non-violent first offenders that can move them from jail to a career path. By involving the entire community--municipal organizations, churches, private businesses--we can divert potential life-long criminals into a positive life path. We must also develop a similar program for successful reentry into the community for those coming out of our prison system, to help those who have served their time and paid their societal debt to reintegrate and move forward to a better future. I believe that it is only by working together as a community that we can effectively bring about the lasting transition from felon to a productive citizen, and we must not shirk from this task.
For Other First Responders
Our firefighters, fire medics, emergency medical personnel and 911 center team members face their own challenges in carrying out their duties and responsibilities and are no less deserving of our complete support than our police officers. Like our police officers, I believe that our firefighters and emergency medical personnel are deserving of our complete support, and I will also insist that they uphold the highest standards of their callings to serve.
The men and women who serve as dispatchers from the 911 center are the first point of contact between the citizens and all of our first responders. It is critically important that they not just get the correct information from every caller, but that they have the skills and expertise to effectively manage the crisis and route the information to the appropriate first responders. They further must be able to provide correct and complete information to those first responders so that they can respond appropriately and safely when they arrive on the scene. Given the chaotic nature of the calls 911 receives, this is frequently a nigh-impossible task, so I will see to it that the staff and leadership of the 911 center receives the support and training they require to do their extremely difficult jobs with professionalism, accuracy, and courtesy to all who reach out to them in time of need.
I will actively encourage our first responders to be more open and available to engage with their local communities and will support these activities whenever and however possible. I will seek public-private partnerships to support our first responders and allow and encourage first responders to be active in local schools, churches, and other organizations to educate both children and adults about what they do, how they benefit our communities and the joys and challenges of serving in their careers.
For the Community
In the past, some have had the perception (real and/or perceived) that some areas of Tuscaloosa have enjoyed more effective and timely safety services. As mayor, I will investigate this issue and actively address any identified imbalances by:
Assessing the immediate needs of each district individually, then
Allocating resources to correct the situation as rapidly as possible
Adjust how resources are used based on regular re-assessments of the needs of each district to ensure an equitable distribution of what is available
Always have a transparent process for deciding “who needs what the most right now”
Always having an open door for those who have needs to bring them to my attention
I will initiate regular meetings between first responders, community leaders, and community members to foster relationships, discuss issues and solve problems with input from all the stakeholders involved.
As mayor, I will actively support community education initiatives by all first responders. Education about what police, firefighters, and EMTs do use to be part of every school child's normal experience, and I want to bring this back to our children. I also believe that adults can benefit from the training, education, and experience our first responders possess, and that community education activities are the best way to “spread the knowledge around.” The benefits to this are obvious: people in the community will better know when they need emergency services, how to call for/access them, and what to do until those personnel arrive.
Additionally, with more engagement with the community, first responders will have more opportunities not only to get to know the people, but the people will get to know them. First responders can also share what they know about the problems which plague many of our neighborhoods like drugs, substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, neglect, and many others.
We can no longer accept that first responders are only seen or heard from in an emergency, then promptly forgotten. Truly safe and secure communities depend on solid relationships between first responders and the people in the community, and I will work diligently to see that these relationships develop under my leadership.
Finally, there are a number of improvements to our infrastructure which I will ask our chiefs and department heads to work with community leaders and stakeholders to prioritize for correction and improvement. One such example of these needed improvements is streetlights. As mayor, I want every streetlight to be working and locations where lights are needed to be identified so that we can place these highly cost-effective safety devices (which also greatly improve transportation, nighttime business security, and community well-being) as efficiently as possible.
For the County
In our modern, mobile, interconnected society, safe and secure communities require that we reach out to Tuscaloosa County and all of our surrounding cities. I will actively reach out to and engage with the Tuscaloosa sheriff and his personnel as well as the mayors, police chiefs, fire chiefs, heads of emergency services and other community leaders to create a regular forum where we can meet to discuss common issues, solve problems, and forge closer relationships between all of Tuscaloosa County’s safety providers. This proactive approach will deliver improved safety county-wide and ensure that in times of crisis a good working relationship already exists to speed the delivery of critical services to those most in need.
For the Future
I am committed to the safety and security of Tuscaloosa as a whole, not just select areas and organizations. As we begin the process of recovering from COVID, Tuscaloosa must adjust old priorities to compensate for new realities and the “new normal.” Tuscaloosa is a college town and has a heavily dependent tourist-based economy, and the lockdown has been devastating to those small businesses that serve those tourists. We’ve experienced the closing of several of our small businesses and more will close before we are fully recovered. I believe the recovery process and future growth must include:
Active engagement between City Hall and local businesses
Have consistent, fair, across-the-board policies that do not pick winners and losers, but apply to all business equally
Give local businesses an active voice and role in developing city policy, especially policies related to public health and safety
Incentives and assistance to reopen existing businesses safely
Incentives and assistance to create new businesses of all types, not just in the tourist/game day entertainment sector
Proactively plan for the infrastructure needs of tomorrow’s growth
Actively seek out state and federal funds to support our businesses, grow new businesses, and expand our infrastructure to meet Tuscaloosa’s needs as it grows--including supporting our first responders as they expand to meet the needs of a growing, dynamic, reopening city
Develop public-private partnerships whenever possible to meet business and other needs without adding stress to the Tuscaloosa taxpayer
Actively pursue state and federal funding to fund projects that help with urban planning and development, infrastructure planning, economic development, and quality of life
I want to make Tuscaloosa a great city, and I know and understand that this requires safety and security in every district. As mayor, I will work for every citizen of Tuscaloosa because I believe that the people of Tuscaloosa deserve better!