By Ryan Michael, The Birmingham Times and Carol Robinson, AL.com
While homicides are up around the nation and in many large cities including Birmingham, Jefferson County has bucked the trend, said Sheriff Mark Pettway, who is running for a second four-year term in the November 8 general election.
According to statistics released on Sept. 20 by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO), across the office’s jurisdiction, homicides, rapes and assaults are all down—29 percent, 18 percent and 38 percent, respectively—compared to the same period of time, January through August, in 2021.
Pettway, the first Black sheriff of Jefferson County, chalks up the recent crime decreases to the quality of work that JCSO deputies have been doing under his leadership. That work chiefly involves engaging with people in the communities they serve, Pettway said.
“They’re helping individuals. If somebody has a flat tire, they’re out there helping the individual with a flat tire. They do a lot of things to help people in the community, going to the schools, reading books to the kids at the schools…doing a lot of things in the community…” Pettway said.
Pettway, 58, a Democrat elected in 2018, faces political newcomer Jared Hudson, 37, a Republican U.S. Navy veteran and retired law enforcement officer who runs a firearms and tactical training business.
Hudson said he doesn’t have anything against Pettway.
“I’m not slinging mud, but I wouldn’t be running if I thought he was doing a good job,’’ he said. “He is not doing a good job in curbing the violent and property crime epidemic in Jefferson County.”
“I bring new ideas that can help some of the major problems we’re seeing and the major problem we’re seeing is a lot of symbolism without substance,’’ Hudson said.
“Crime is on the rise, and we’ve got law enforcement doing nothing about, not because of the men and women in law enforcement, but because of leadership,” he said.
Pettway said voters should support him for the reduction in crime under his leadership and the personal concern he holds for all residents of Jefferson County.
“You have a sheriff that cares, cares about you, cares about this county, making sure that we do things a better way, right here in Jefferson County, help everybody to live a good quality of life, whether it’s more safety for the residents or to try to get those that are incarcerated rehabilitated,” Pettway said.
In August, Pettway was named Law Enforcement Executive of the Year by the International Crisis Intervention Team, which advocates for improved community responses to mental health crises.
The sheriff said he felt great pride in the recognition from the acknowledgement, which he said which shows that the JCSO has been “thinking differently.”
“I’ve been involved in law enforcement, [for] 30 years now and never been trained to deal with people with mental issues. If I haven’t been trained most, most people in law enforcement have not been trained, so that’s something new to us,” Pettway said.
The Crisis Care Center, which serves to divert people with mental health or substance abuse crises away from jails, is another big win for the region, Pettway said.
If reelected, his priorities include constructing two regional jails, one each for the Bessemer and Birmingham divisions of the JCSO’s jurisdiction. These jails, which would be for use by municipalities across the county, would get small municipalities “out of the jail business,” Pettway said.
“That frees up a lot of money for these municipalities, so they can have money where they can do garbage pickup or whatever they need to do to help better their cities,” he said.
Pettway, who has heavily focused on rehabilitative efforts for incarcerated people in the county with programs like Jobs Not Jail, said that within these new jails, his staff intends to provide greater skills and trade training for those incarcerated.
“We want to change their lives, and we want to rehab them, so we [want to] have a place to teach and train them trades. We can place them in good paying jobs. We want to do that and help those individuals,” Pettway said.
Additionally, Pettway said he intends to seek greater pay for employees of the JCSO.
Starting pay for deputies in Jefferson County is $41,000, according to the sheriff, while neighboring Shelby and Tuscaloosa Counties start off paying employees $10,000 or more per year. Pettway also said he would like to allow deputies to receive retirement benefits after 25 years, instead of the current 30-year requirement.
“Our county commission [which sets the budget for the sheriff’s office] needs … to come up and be competitive with the surrounding agencies, so I’m looking to get more money for my deputies. We want to fight to get them better conditions to work in,” Pettway said.
Whoever is elected, Pettway said, the right decision would have been made.
“My trust is in the Lord. He put me here. I’m here until he says my time is up, so if he says my time is up, I’m fine with that. If he says stay here on the job. You’ve got more to do. I’m fine with that,” Pettway said.
Hudson, the Republican candidate from northern Jefferson County, is a former U.S. Navy SEAL, husband and father of three daughters. If elected, he will target crime and criminals, not communities, he said.
“Citizens don’t want to feel like a tyranny government is coming in with an iron fist messing up their life,’’ said Hudson.
“You target crime, you remove crime from the community, and you partner with the community to help build safeguards, so crime doesn’t infiltrate again,’’ Hudson said. “This is not an earth-shattering concept. It’s not even that hard to do.”
Hudson said he would bring a combination of law enforcement and business experience to the sheriff’s position.
He is a graduate of Mortimer Jordan High School. Following graduation, Hudson completed fire college and became a firefighter but said he felt led to join the military.
He served as a SEAL operator with Naval Special Warfare and was deployed multiple times to combat zones including Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Foal Eagle. He still works with SEAL’s teams.
He served one year as a deputy with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and worked as a reserve deputy with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
He also worked as an investigator with a prosecutor’s office in Indiana and is certified with the Alabama Peace Officer Standard Training Commission.
Hudson, who has his MBA from Liberty University, is CEO of his business, The Shooting Institute, which he founded. Through the institute, he has trained area law enforcement agencies, military personnel and civilians in self-defense.
He and his wife, Lauren, founded the Covenant Rescue Group, which fights human trafficking. Through Covenant Rescue, Hudson and his team train law enforcement agencies and also work with them to carry out human trafficking operations.
Hudson launched his campaign more than a year ago. A man of strong faith, he said God led him to join the race.
He was in South Sudan and spending time with his Bible when he received the calling.
“The Lord got a hold of my heart and said, ‘Look, you go all over the world trying to fix everybody’s else’s problems and your own house is not in order in Jefferson County. Get home and get your house in order,’’’ Hudson said.
“I had no idea what it meant, but that was the word I felt I got from the Lord during my prayer time,’’ he said.
Hudson said he returned home, explored his options and was presented with a couple of possibilities in politics but said nothing clicked until he was asked about running for sheriff. “The Lord has opened doors tremendously, and He’s opened my eyes tremendously,’’ Hudson said.
“The position of sheriff is not a Republican or Democrat thing – it shouldn’t be. It’s not a Black or white, male or female, gay or straight, Christian or atheist thing,’’ he said.
“What matters for the sheriff is that I’m going to stand between you and anybody who would choose to take your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
“That’s as straightforward and simple as the sheriff’s position is.’’ he said, “I would argue currently the sheriff is not standing the gap between people and someone who would victimize and that’s why you’re seeing the rise in crime rates, in particular violent crime.”
“The sheriff is the first line of defense and the last line of defense for the people of this county,’’ he said.
Hudson said it’s his understanding that there are roughly 1,500 outstanding warrants in Jefferson County that have yet to be served on people wanted for violent crimes.
One of the first things he would do if elected would be to round up those waiting to be arrested.
Hudson thinks he has the best training to run the sheriff’s office, which has an annual budget of roughly $79 million. “Not only do you have to be the enforcer and protector, you also have to have business proclivities to manage people,’’ he said.
“You’ve got to have a business mindset and I would argue Mark is not the enforcer and he has zero business mindset.”
Nationwide there has been discussion about defunding police, which Hudson calls ridiculous, or law enforcement reform. He says he’s not opposed to change.
“If law enforcement needs to be remolded to better fit society, then let’s do that,’’ he said. “I would argue that the guy who has been in the system that’s messed up for 30 years won’t work.”
These stories have been edited for length. For more visit www.al.com
MARK PETTWAY (I)
Political experience: Jefferson County Sheriff, 2018-present.
Professional experience: Fairfield Police Department, 1993-99; Internal Revenue Service Task Force, 2012-14; Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, 1999-present. Member, Fraternal Order of Police, Police Benevolent Association; former member, Law Enforcement Bicycle Association.
Civic experience: Member, Vestavia Hills Civitan Club; member, Kiwanis Club of Birmingham.
Education: Faulkner University, business administration, 1989-91; instructor at the Sheriff’s Academy; instructor in cybercrime and identity theft education classes.
Residence: Northern Jefferson County
Political experience: First run for political office
Professional experience: SEAL operator with Naval Special Warfare. One year as a deputy with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and worked as a reserve deputy with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
Education: Mortimer Jordan High School; University of Phoenix, bachelor’s of science, 2013-2015; MBA, Liberty University, 2017-20;
Updated on 11/5/2022 at 8:01 p.m. to include bio information for Jared Hudson