Lawrence County Chief Deputy Tim Sandlin discussed several new and upcoming programs for the Sheriff’s Department at the Rotary Club meeting on Thursday, July 18.
“I’m honored to come home and finish my career where it all started,” said Sandlin, who has had 26 years of law enforcement experience. After joining the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office in January, following recent administration changes, Sandlin said he and Sheriff Max Sanders had to acknowledge what was good about the department, what could be built on, and what needed to change.
“We’re very fortunate to have a sheriff open to change,” Sandlin said. “The department is moving forward. We want to change the culture and the way we think. We want to transition to a proactive model of crime prevention.”
Sandlin said the department plans to employ four full-time School Resource Officers and two part-time SROs for each of the county schools this school year.
In a board meeting earlier this month, Lawrence County Superintendent Jon Bret Smith said the county “schools will be more protected this year than they ever have.” Sandlin said the department employed more part-time SROs last year than full-time officers.
“I’m very passionate about school resource officers,” he told Rotary members. He said a goal for the department is to be present at the schools, getting to know the students.
“Hopefully our officers will be a deterrent for any threat,” he said. “This is another proactive measure we can take.”
Deputies, reserve officers and corrections officers in the department underwent Less Lethal training on Friday and Monday. The training focused on the use of impact munitions and chemical spray.
Sandlin said the training introduced deputies and officers to more defense tools that could help to reduce fatalities or to deescalate a serious situation before a suspect becomes a threat.
While impact munitions, such as rubber bullets or ammunition referred to as “bean bag rounds,” may lower the risk of death or severe injury, the less-lethal ammunition can still pack a deadly force, explained Sandlin. He said officers and deputies participated in the training to help them understand target areas and pain compliance tools.
“This is another way we can be more proactive rather than reactive,” said Sandlin. “I’ve been there when the bad days happened. I’d much rather be on the preventive side of a case rather than working a situation reactively.”
He and Sanders said the department has implemented other proactive programs to be more present in the community as well. Vacation and Homebound Checks are preventative measures sheriff’s deputies are taking throughout the county.
Under the Vacation Check Program, Lawrence County citizens who fall under the department’s service area can request routine home checks while they are away from home for extended periods.
Similar to the Vacation program, Homebound Checks are also performed by deputies for elderly or homebound citizens in the county.
He said the sheriff’s department has partnered with the Lawrence County Aging Center to get in touch with elderly or disabled citizens who may be interested in the service, but no one is automatically enrolled.
Those interested in the services may call 256-974-9291 to request a deputy for surveillance. The department encourages homeowners or homebound residents who do not fall under the county service area to call their local police department for similar services.
A widely requested litter
crew was also implemented for the county earlier this month using inmates from the Lawrence County Jail.
Sanders said his department is very selective about the inmates who voluntarily participate.
“The inmates get credit for fines by participating the crew,” Sanders said. “We’ve typically got four inmates working out there at one time, sometimes maybe less.”
Sanders said a corrections officer first screens inmates who are approved for the crew before they attend orientation and safety training.
The department partnered with the Lawrence County Solid Waste Department to determine where the crew is needed most, Sandlin said.
“We’re hitting the county by districts. Everyone will probably see inmate workers in their area of the county at some point throughout the program,” he said.
County Administrator Heather Dyar said the county has also partnered with Keep Alabama Beautiful to provide pick-up supplies for the litter crew, including trash bags and reflective vests.
“We keep track of how much is being picked up and provide Keeping Alabama Beautiful with a quota, they keep us equipped with the supplies,” she said.
Though the department has been able to implement these programs to help positively impact the community, the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office still faces many of the same financial challenges that loomed in previous years.
The jail, which was originally constructed to house 86 inmates and later modified to hold a generous estimate of 128 inmates, averages about 170 inmates each week, Sanders said.
The department also faces challenges in hiring and recruiting employees, said Sandlin.
“As a smaller county, it’s getting harder and harder to compete with surrounding areas,” he said.
In lieu of pay raises, Sandlin said he hopes the department will be able to retain good employees in the future by focusing on the quality of life inside the department.
“More police officers die each year from a heart attack or suicide than officers who are killed in the line of duty,” said Sandlin. “We’re working on some programs that will address mental wellness and physical fitness.”
Through the programs still to come, Sandlin looks for employees to participate in fitness activities together with encouragement from the rest of the department. He said the goal is to reward rather than punish officers as they achieve fitness goals.
“We are trying to find long-term solutions that are efficient but also the least costly,” said Sandlin. “We’re working. All these things take time, especially with limited resources and limited staff. We’re dealing with what we’ve got and making it work.”