The Mobile City Council on Tuesday delayed a vote on a plan to reduce the extended police jurisdiction by half, in order to possibly save money and reduce emergency calls for service.
Previously, state law mandated city police forces to patrol three miles beyond their corporate limits, but recent legislation now allows cities to reduce the distance by as much as half, Finance Director Paul Wesch told councilors during a pre-conference meeting Tuesday.
In a statement, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said he hopes the reduction to one-and-one-half miles from the city limits will help the police and fire departments provide better service for residents.
“In order to become the ‘safest city in America by 2020,’ we must take advantage of every resource at our disposal,” Stimpson said, repeating a campaign promise he’s made since 2013. “Reducing the police jurisdiction allows us to focus more resources and personnel on protecting our citizens. We will continue to work diligently to gain the confidence of citizens as we address these challenges facing our city.”
The proposal would reduce the number of Mobile Police Department service calls by 30 percent and calls to the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department by 29 percent, Wesch said. While the current three-mile patrol boundary outside the city limits consists of a large area, the outer mile-and-a-half affected by the proposal is less densely populated than other parts of the police jurisdiction, Wesch said.
A reduction in the size of the police jurisdiction could also save the city a minimum of $1.5 million, Wesch said.
Another potential benefit, annexation, was outlined in comments made by Councilman John Williams. He told his fellow councilors the move would tell business owners and others outside of the proposed police jurisdiction to “pay full price” for the city’s police and fire protection. Williams said that group could then organize itself and petition for annexation.
Councilors seemed supportive of the idea, with Council President Gina Gregory saying it had been the desire of previous councils “for as long as I’ve been on council.” She said the proposal would improve police and fire response times as well as save money.
Gregory described how a call outside of the city limits can stretch resources and cause a domino effect on other areas.
Councilman Joel Daves, in echoing Williams, said the city has to decide how best to spend its limited resources, adding that it seems spending it on taxpaying citizens would be the way to go.
While the proposal seems only positive from the city’s perspective, Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran sees quite a few negatives.
In a letter to Mobile County Commissioners, Cochran said it would increase his office’s calls for service by 31 percent and also cause an increased burden on the Alabama Highway Patrol, which responds to accidents and calls in unincorporated parts of the county.
Citing the 2010 census, Cochran wrote that the population of that outer one-and-a-half-mile area cut from the proposal totals more than 21,000 and could amount to an increase of more than 9,000 calls for service. Given the increase, Cochran has asked the county for 26 additional patrol deputies if the council approves the jurisdiction reduction.