By William C. Singleton III and Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Mike Hale, incumbent Jefferson County sheriff, has been a lawman for more than four decades, during which time he has gained the experience to keep neighborhoods and schools safe and to get adequate funding to deter criminal activity.
Republican Hale will face Democrat Mark Pettway in the Tuesday, November 6, general election to determine who will lead the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office for the next four years.
Hale, who has served as sheriff for 17 years, started his career with the Homewood Police Department in 1973 and joined the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in 1976. He said his familiarity with the position is what’s needed in Alabama’s most populous county.
“I believe experience is critical to serving as sheriff,” Hale said. “I did not run for sheriff until I had been promoted through the ranks and served as a deputy, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. I knew I needed this experience to be able to lead the Sheriff’s Office and have the respect of the other deputies.”
Asked the most pressing issues facing the Sheriff’s Office, Hale said, “Maintaining the trust of the communities it serves; making sure the proper funding is available to enable [the office] to deter criminal activity; and getting municipalities to work together to accomplish our goal of keeping neighborhoods and schools safe.”
Hale, who didn’t have a Republican opponent in his primary race, said his knowledge of the office has allowed him to better understand how all divisions of the Sheriff’s Office work together to complement each other.
“Experience allowed me to find the funding to place a deputy in all 56 county schools. It’s what allowed me to be able to establish the Metro Area Crime Center and bring together municipalities from throughout the county to work together to better fight crime. Experience is what has allowed me to lead the Sheriff’s Office during a time when we are seeing a reduction in crime rates.”
School Safety Plan
In September, Hale unveiled a new comprehensive school safety plan to ensure the safety and security of all students and staff in Jefferson County Schools. Key elements of the plan include placing a school resource deputy in every elementary, middle, and high school, as well as establishing an assessment team within the Sheriff’s Office School Resource Division to identify students who exhibit certain patterns of behavior that may indicate a need for assistance.
“This school safety initiative should be a relief to every parent with a child in our schools and every staff member working there,” Hale said.
Currently, 25 school resource deputies serve 56 Jefferson County Schools; this includes a K9 handler who floats among all the schools for searches. Hale plans to hire 31 contract deputies to supplement the current staff, placing personnel in every school rather than a single school resource officer (SRO) being responsible for and roving among the high schools and feeder schools.
‘Very Best For Children’
“I think we can all agree the very best protection for our children in school is having a sworn, trained law-enforcement officer on site,” he said. “Our children deserve to be safe and feel safe in school. I’m confident today that we have taken steps to ensure that safety. … I believe we are leading the nation in school safety and will be the model for other school systems to follow.”
The sheriff also points to another initiative that he said has helped with public safety: The Jefferson County Metro Area Crime Center is a multijurisdictional crime-fighting operation that uses technology and real-time intelligence to predict crime trends and fight crime. Hale said it has allowed him to develop relationships within Jefferson County.
“[The center has] given me the opportunity to earn the trust of 20 municipalities, including the city of Birmingham, to work with the Sheriff’s Office to fight crime through the Metro Area Crime Center.”
In October, Hale announced that sheriff’s deputies in Jefferson County are now equipped with body cameras.
“We are very excited to equip our deputy sheriffs with this valuable tool that will not only help us protect the community but also build additional trust between this office and those we serve,” he said.
The consent decree was issued as part of a 1970s-era consolidated lawsuit that alleged the county, City of Birmingham, sheriff’s office and the Personnel Board of Jefferson County discriminated against blacks and women in their hiring and promotions.
Birmingham and the Jefferson County Personnel Board, which provides employment services for the county and cities, were ultimately released from their decrees. Last year a U.S. District Judge released the Sheriff’s Office from the decree.
Hale also trumpets his efforts to bring diversity to the management level of the Sheriff’s Office, paving the way for the department’s release from the consent decree in March 2017. More than half of his executive staff is either black or female, he said: “I just promoted some great men and women. … The court said it was a big deal, how we did it, and they released us from the consent decree before they released Jefferson County.”
“I was very proud when I stood before a federal judge last year who … praised our office for the strides we had made in our hiring and promotion practices since I had become sheriff,” Hale said.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, once primarily a white-male-dominated organization, now reflects the community it serves, he said.
“By having an office that reflects the community and ensuring that neither racism nor sexism plays a role in hiring and promotions, we can better earn the trust of the people we serve,” Hale said. “We have instituted programs to recruit women and members of the minority community to ensure that our office has the diversity we need to best serve our county.”
Still, Hale said there is much work to be done.
“I believe that my experience as sheriff, if I am re-elected, will allow us to continue to build on the successes that we are currently having,” he said. “I am humbled and proud that the citizens of Jefferson County have continued to give me their support to serve as their sheriff, which has allowed me to gain invaluable experience by serving them. If re-elected, I will continue to get up every day and work to make sure I use my experience to better meet our goal of keeping neighborhoods and schools safe.”