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After 35 years, Sheriff’s Office comes from under federal oversight over its hiring practices

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Sheriff Mike Hale said that through hiring practices, the sheriff's office is now "one that reflects the community." (Barnett Wright, The Birmingham Times)

By Barnett Wright

The Birmingham Times

Sheriff Mike Hale said that through hiring practices, the sheriff's office is now "one that reflects the community." (Barnett Wright, The Birmingham Times)
Sheriff Mike Hale said that through diversity in hiring, the sheriff’s office is now “one that reflects the community.” (Barnett Wright, The Birmingham Times)

Self-described as “white-male dominated” at one time, the Jefferson County sheriff’s office on Thursday came from under 35 years of federal court oversight over its hiring practices.

The sheriff’s office had been under a federal consent decree since 1982 as part of a lawsuit that involved discrimination against hiring blacks and women.

In his courtroom, U.S. District Court Judge Lynwood Smith said the consent decree is “unconditionally terminated” effective Thursday, March 23.

“I find that Sheriff [Mike] Hale since 2002, after a difficult election process, has complied in good faith with the obligations imposed upon his department by federal law, and, by the terms of the consent decree, he has done so consistently since 2002,” Smith said.

The judge added that Hale “has implemented policies, practices and procedures that make it unlikely, in my judgment, that sheriff of Jefferson County’s office will repeat any violations of federal law.”

The sheriff’s office will continue to work with an affirmative action officer through 2020.

When he became sheriff 15 years ago, Hale began almost immediately to diversify the office.

“We’ve given opportunities not only to women in hiring and African Americans in hiring, in short, we’ve turned a white male dominated sheriff’s office to one that reflects the community,” he said. “In Birmingham, Jefferson County Alabama, the civil rights citadel of America, where blood was shed for the right to vote, it’s important that [when] you have an office close to 600 deputy sheriffs that are armed, and have the right to use deadly force, these are men and women who reflect the community.”

Jay Murrill, one of the attorneys for Hale, said in court that the sheriff’s office of 2017 does not look like the sheriff’s office of 1982. “The sheriff’s office of today looks like the community and that is a testament to Sheriff Hale and the men and women of the sheriff’s office . . . the ultimate beneficiary of the diversity are the citizens of the county that the sheriff’s office serves and protects,” Murrill said.