A perk proposed by the the police chief to help with recruitment would allow police officers to live farther from Decatur and still drive their patrol vehicles to and from work with gas paid by the city.

Decatur Police Chief Nate Allen wants the City Council to extend the distance police officers can drive their police vehicles home from 5 to 20 miles outside the city limits as a “recruiting tool” for his short-handed department.

If adopted by the City Council, the expanded take-home policy would allow officers to drive patrol vehicles home to an area that would include residences east of downtown Huntsville, or in Elkmont, Rogersville, Town Creek, Cullman or Lacey's Spring.

Allen said the expanded benefit is necessary to compete effectively with neighboring law enforcement agencies. 

“(Police) departments around us are causing us to increase our take-home policy,” Allen said. “It’s causing us to lose officers. If we extend our limit, we could possibly steal some of their officers. We want to be on a level playing field.”

Human Resources Director Richelle Sandlin said the Police Department has 182 employees with 14 officer vacancies.

“We’re down seven plus the seven we’re historically short on (filling),” Sandlin said.

Chief Financial Officer Kyle Demeester said 17 additional active Police Department employees would qualify for taking home their police vehicle outside the city if the resolution is adopted. Including maintenance, oil and gas at $2.49 per gallon (the most recent price the city paid for gas on Aug. 18), he estimated the annual cost for the city would be $23,613.

In a comparison of take-home policies, Hartselle Mayor Randy Garrison said his city’s long-standing rule for police officers is they can go to and from home in police vehicles if they live within 25 miles of the city.

Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson said his department’s take-home policy is “within Limestone County.” The farthest this could be is just under 14 miles.

Lt. Lamar Anderson, of Madison Police Department, said his department makes decisions on a case-by-case basis but typically they allow officers to take their police vehicles home up to a 25-mile radius outside of the city.

Huntsville allows officers to drive their patrol car home in the city (which reaches into Limestone and Morgan counties) and Madison County.

The proposal has the council majority’s support, with Council President Jacob Ladner and councilmen Carlton McMasters, Kyle Pike and Hunter Pepper saying this is a needed change to help the department. A vote on the resolution is scheduled for Tuesday.

Councilman Billy Jackson is the lone dissenting voice. He opposes the resolution, partly due to its cost and his concerns about increased city liability, but also because he feels its impact will be to decrease the safety of Decatur neighborhoods.

"A police vehicle that's parked in a driveway in Decatur is much more valuable to our community than a police vehicle that's parked in a driveway in Cullman," Jackson said Friday. "It makes our neighborhoods safer."

McMasters called Allen’s proposal “a valid request.” He said he is hopeful this proposal along with police officer raises that are in the proposed fiscal 2022 budget “is another piece of the pie in the effort to recruit and retain police officers.”

Ladner said one of the council’s main jobs is public safety.

“Recruiting and keeping the Police Department fully staffed is one of our big responsibilities,” Ladner said. “It’s a basic function.”

The Personnel Department recommended in June that the city increase all officers' pay by 13.1% at an additional cost of $960,000. The raises are also in the proposed fiscal 2022 budget that the City Council has to consider before Oct. 1. Incorporated in the 13.1% increase for police officers is a 2.5% cost of living adjustment for all city employees that’s also in the proposed budget, Ladner said.

The recommended increase would raise starting officers’ pay from $37,286 to $42,186, which Sandlin said would bring Decatur police in line with neighboring cities that it competes with for new officers.

“The amount is so small and petty,” Pepper said of the cost of allowing officers to take their police vehicles 20 miles outside of the city.

“If it helps with recruiting, then it’s a cost-effective step. The wear and tear on the vehicles is the only concern. We don’t have enough officers, so we need to do whatever we can to help the department,” Pepper said.

Pepper said a benefit to the city of the extended take-home policy also is that an officer could respond more quickly to the scene instead of having to drive to the Police Department to get their police cruiser.

“If there’s a mass casualty, the officer can jump and go without having to travel to the office (to pick up his or her vehicle),” Pepper said.

Jackson said he is concerned with the additional cost of gas and the added wear and tear on the city-owned police vehicles, most of which are now SUVs.

Jackson said this issue doesn’t do anything to improve public safety or help the city financially, and he also worries about increased liability for the city from traffic accidents during lengthy commutes in police vehicles.

“This neither shows fiscal accountability nor fiscal sense,” Jackson said. “It’s easy to sit back and say this isn’t a significant amount of money, but we’re in charge of looking at thousands of dollars even down to the penny.”

Get Unlimited Access
$3 for 3 Months
Subscribe Now

After the initial selected subscription period your subscription rate will auto renew at $8.00 per month.

bayne.hughes@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.

(5) comments

Craig Stover

Jackson's arguments make no sense. The liability issue for one is ridiculous because if there is an officer involved wreck, I am not sure location makes any difference in the insurance cost to city. I can understand that maybe he thinks it increases the risk with the further driving distance, but liability is not an issue. Also, he says that he prefers cars parked inside city driveways to make neighborhoods appear safer. While I agree with the sentiment that it probably does make a neighborhood safer, given the fact the department is 14 officers down, I would think making sure those positions are filled would be considered a priority when it comes to safety. I mean, isn't 14 cars actively patrolling better than 14 cars sitting in a driveway, or as they are right now, currently sitting unused? I think so.

JEREMY GOFORTH

Craig I agree 100% they should approve this. This perk was not the chiefs idea. It will not help us keep officers either. The only two things that will keep the officers that we have HERE and the potential for new officers to come here is to remove him as Chief. If the public new the nightmare he has been to work for and all the havoc he has caused he’d be looking for another job tomorrow.

NUMBERS don’t lie. The crime rate over the past five years just keeps going up and the officers leaving continues to get higher. I’ve seen officers move jobs to other departments or in another industry for less pay just because of him.

Like I said NUMBERS don’t lie. If their was anyway the personnel department could release the exit interviews of officers who have left and retired over the past five years. Everyone’s jaw would hit the floor.

Charlie Specoli

Jeremy you are spot on. Higher pay while it is needed and extending the take home car range won't fill the vacancies, nor the upcoming ones. City hall has always been great at keeping secrets, and this Chief is one of them. Quoting a veteran officer "this chief has ruined this department." The chief according to this officer has no clue as to how to be a leader, and they can pay more and add perks, but who ever comes probably will not stay, they who have been there are counting their days to retirement. The Chief is all about his self, and not the department, and yes the numbers don't lie.

joseph walker

Mr. Goforth, the exit interviews would be very eye opening I can assure you but they will never be released. City Hall cover their own.

Charlie Specoli

I am all for this, but I think it should be 12-15 miles. The city does have to compete for recruits and this is one very important way to do this. Of course there will be critics and some of those critics are the ones that say the police are not paid enough, to those who just do not like the police. Mr.. Jackson needs to understand that the days of filling your staff needs for the PD from recruits just from Decatur are and have been long gone. Police officers can respond to urgent calls on their way to and from their on duty hours, and it gives the department great flexibility in the case of a city emergency. Officers can go directly to a scene or a coverage area as opposed to going to a location and obtaining their patrol vehicle. It's worth the cost, and the vehicles are heavy duty police package vehicles and can well handle the mileage. I don't understand Mr. Jackson's concern of liability in case of a traffic accident out of town. A traffic accident regardless of where it happens is just that a traffic accident, how does the liability differ based on location?

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.