Some residents of the areas just outside Atmore might have thought they were experiencing mild hallucinations around sunrise Friday morning, August 25, when they awoke to the sight of Atmore police patrol cars cruising their settlements and neighborhoods.
Under a new deal hammered out between city and county law enforcement officials, Atmore police now carry the primary law enforcement responsibility throughout an extended area that brings a significant increase to APD’s operating territory.
The stretching of police jurisdictional lines was the product of a trade-off between Escambia County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mike Lambert and Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks. The deal, which took about two months to consummate, was announced during a joint press conference held August 24 at Atmore City Hall.
“A couple of months ago I reached out to Chief Deputy Lambert concerning us working the jurisdiction,” said Brooks. “We’ve always helped the county out as far as calls, but I’ve had some inmates in that jail (Escambia County Detention Center) that I call extended-stay inmates that the city judge puts in our jail. He told me there are other towns in the county that he helps out if they work the jurisdiction, so I’ve agreed to work our jurisdiction.”
Brooks said he classified inmates as “extended-stay” if they have been found guilty in municipal court and sentenced to 30 days or more in jail. A municipal court judge has the power to sentence a person to up to a year behind bars.
“In the city, we just don’t have the resources to properly …,” he began before pausing. “We have our dispatchers who go through a jail management course, but (the county jail) has a nurse on call and other things that we don’t.”
Lambert said that state law allowed for doubling of the standard range of the local police agency’s jurisdiction.
“The difference is, the PJ was one and a half miles (outside the city limits),” the chief deputy said. “Based on Atmore’s population, they were able to extend to three miles outside the city limits. That’s from the furthest city limits point, out, which would be up here on Highway 21 North, at the middle school, and that’s three miles as the crow flies. It makes a kind of half moon-type shape.”
Stretching the boundaries
Atmore patrol officers and investigators will now have primary coverage responsibility for an area that extends to:
* the double bridges on Alabama 21 North, with some responsibility on Curtis Road
* Interstate 65 on Jack Springs Road
* “the first” James Road, including the Stokley Plantation subdivision
* Canoe, as far as Arthur Hall Road and including Escambia Academy
* Robinsonville Road, from North Canoe Road, then back around to Alabama 21
Lambert agreed that the new PJ would add a lot of ground to APD’s patrol zone, but noted that the city officers wouldn’t actually be bearing the entire load.
“It’s a big area,” said the chief deputy. “But we’re not stopping our patrols in those areas. We will continue to patrol, but (APD is) adding patrol onto that. Those areas will be Atmore’s primary responsibility, but if (police are) busy, we might have to take the call and work the whole case. But that’s OK. That was our agreement; that’s what we’re going to do.”
He added that the agreement would take some of the strain off a sheriff’s office that has to cover all the unincorporated areas of a county that measures about 953 square miles and is 77 miles wide.
“It will be advantageous for the sheriff’s office just based on the fact that Chief Brooks has more personnel here in the city limits than I do in the entire county,” said Lambert, who added that ECSO wouldn’t be the only beneficiary of the plan. “It will help us, but it will also give people a better response time and more law enforcement presence in these areas than they are used to getting.”
Capt. Greg Forbes, who is head of ECSO’s patrol division and works out of the satellite sheriff’s office in Atmore, agreed that his job should become a little less hectic.
“It’s going to take a load off us,” Forbes said. “We’ve always pretty much stuck to our own areas, but city police officers already have arrest authority across the county.”
Troopers will work wrecks
Brooks pointed out that Alabama State Troopers would continue to investigate auto accidents that occur within the expanded police jurisdiction just as they had before the zone was enlarged.
“We will not be actually investigating accidents out in the jurisdiction,” the police chief said. “We’re only responsible for wrecks here inside the city. As far as wrecks, they will be the responsibility of the state troopers.”
Lambert added confirmation.
“Nothing is going to change, as far as wrecks are responded to and who is responsible for working the accident,” he said. “The city is still going to go, but they won’t be responsible for the paperwork.”
Public safety the key
Brooks said the safety of the public was the main concern as he and Lambert hammered out the deal.
“We want to provide the best law enforcement service for the people of Atmore and the Atmore area,” he said. “Chief Deputy Lambert agrees with me; it doesn’t matter what color uniform shows up, it’s somebody from law enforcement. If they need help, we’re going. If we need help, they’re coming.”
The chief deputy agreed.
“People who are used to seeing a gold car with a star pull up are usually going to see a white vehicle that says ‘Police’ on the side,” he pointed out. “It will be the same service, the same deal; it will just be a different entity.”