Sheriff Hoss Mack presented his office’s 2018 annual report to the Baldwin County Commission last week. Notably, he reported both violent and property crime reports were down last year, remaining well below national and state averages.
“I wish I could really put my thumb on it so I could do a better job,” Mack told Lagniappe last week, asked whether he could attribute decreases to anything in particular. “I don’t know if those numbers will continue to go down because we continue to grow, but we did have an increase in force with a few more deputies on the road and some of those — particularly in the investigative division — are more experienced.”
Mack said the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) had a higher case closure rate last year. The department also participated in the county’s blanket school resource officer program, which staffs each public school with a law enforcement officer able to mitigate or prevent crimes or disturbances that may involve students or parents, and then carry over into the community.
He offered the presentation as a courtesy to the three new commissioners. The full report is available on the commission’s website.
The county recorded three homicides in 2018, up from two in 2017, but reported rapes (5), robberies (9) and assaults (50) decreased or remained at the same level. The BCSO responded to 12 suicides in 2018, the same number as the year before.
All told, Baldwin County’s serious crime rate is .35 percent per 1,000 residents, well below the state average of 7.26 percent and the national average of 2.09 percent.
Reports of nonviolent property crimes are more numerous, but Mack reported those rates also decreased in 2018. There were 233 burglaries, a reduction of 26 percent from 2017; 675 thefts, a reduction of 6 percent from 2017; 93 auto thefts, a reduction of 17 percent; and 142 breaking and entering of vehicles, a reduction of 30 percent.
The county’s 7.26 percent property crime rate is significantly lower than the 38.55 percent state average and the 40.43 national average, Mack reported.
Some 109 guns were reported stolen last year, about 90 percent of them from vehicles.
The department has two separate budgets, $15.5 million for law enforcement operations and support and $9.7 million for the corrections center in Bay Minette. Personnel costs accounted for 86 percent and 75 percent of each, respectively. Discretionary account revenue and expenditures were outlined in Mack’s presentation.
Throughout 2018, deputies worked 59,586 cases resulting in 848 arrests. There were 14,651 traffic contacts resulting in citations 12.6 percent of the time. There were 64 vehicle pursuits and 21 instances of suspect resistance, leading to eight Taser deployments.
Of the office’s eight patrol areas, the most active in responding to calls for service is in the Bon Secour, West Foley and Vernant Park service area. Slightly fewer calls were attributed to the Elsanor, Loxley, Robertsdale, Rosinton, Seminole and Summerdale service area, while the area around Belforest, Daphne, Fairhope, Marlow, Magnolia Springs and Silverhill was the third most active.
Mack said the statistics were representative of the high-density population areas of the county unserved by municipal departments.
Trends indicate methamphetamines remain one the county’s most prevalent illegal drugs. While clandestine labs are now few and far between, Mack said a far more pure and cheaper form of the drug is being smuggled across the Mexican border, and the department often intercepts shipments en route to Atlanta or Florida. There has also been a rise in high-quality marijuana and THC products, and cocaine remains common in cities.
The department also served 441 protection from abuse orders and 136 involuntary commitments — a rise of 21 percent last year and 46 percent since 2017, a “huge increase,” Mack said. There were 125 orders for evictions and ejections, up 25 percent.
Between August and December 2018, the 11 deputies serving as school resource officers worked 127 cases, including bullying, welfare issues, suicide threats, domestic violence and four “threatened shootings.” No school shootings occurred, Mack noted. The department conducted active-shooter drills as recently as this month.
Immediate needs include plumbing work in the corrections center, improvements to docket processing, reductions in inmate intakes, medical and mental health resources, the timing of training for deputies and “the number-one complaint I get — traffic,” he said.
The department is planning capital improvement projects, including an expansion of the docket area in the corrections center, a new unit capable of housing 200 female inmates, and a booking and community corrections center in Magnolia Springs to serve the south half of the county.
BCSO is considering purchasing the city of Bay Minette’s 22,000-square-foot police and municipal complex, expanding an investigation command building in Robertsdale and remodeling the sheriff’s office annex in Robertsdale.
Mack also addressed State Sen. Chris Elliott’s bill to roll back municipal planning and police jurisdictions.
“I don’t agree with the bill in its present form,” Mack said. “Where I disagree is there is no defined way in the present bill as to how the county will receive additional revenue to fund what I would need.”
If the bill were passed as written, Mack told the commission it would require 20 additional deputies, four new investigators, six communications officers, eight corrections staff, four new people in the docket area, two transportation officers and two new office clerks.
As far as equipment is concerned, Mack said the rollback would necessitate 24 new vehicles, six communications consoles and two transport vans.
All told, it’s a $6 million increase and a 24-36 month time frame, all of which he said is a “conservative estimate.”
“The second part is the effective date,” Mack added. “If [the Legislature] were to pass this … there’s no way we could stand up the required force to handle the increase in calls within the time frame the bill would take effect.”
Mack said discussions are ongoing and he expects amendments to the bill. Other bills of interest this legislative session include amendments to inmate food fund expenditures, public record disclosures, juvenile justice rules and civil asset forfeiture.
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