By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Attorney General Steve Marshall implored teachers, parents, communities and the media to help support Alabama law enforcement officers in light of the seventh Alabama officer killed in the line of duty in less than 13 months.
“To our citizens, we need your involvement,” Marshall said Wednesday during a press conference.
“Law enforcement needs your partnership,” he said. “Get to know your police chief, and your sheriff, find ways to serve alongside them. tell them when you see suspicious behavior, or evidence of violence and drug dealing, invite them into your neighborhoods to intervene early and swiftly before order is lost.”
The death of Kimberly police officer Nick O’Rear, who was fatally shot last week during a pursuit, makes this the most officers killed in Alabama in a 13-month period.
“Sadly, good policing has become more and more difficult because of our culture and societal attitudes toward law enforcement,” Marshall said. “That obstacle is something that each of us must change.”
Marshall asked parents to teach children to respect law enforcement and asked news media not to only focus on “bad apples” within police officer ranks.
Repairing relationships between communities and law enforcement is one way to stop any future killings, Marshall said.
Representatives from each area of the state where officers were killed were also at the press conference.
Oxford Police Chief Bill Partridge, who is the president of the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police, said the number of officers being killed in Alabama is unacceptable.
“We should not be burying police officers the way we’re doing it right now,” Partridge said.
Marshall said state leaders’ conversations on prison construction and criminal justice reform have sidelined the needs of victims and the protection of law enforcement.
“We spend hours and hours in this town talking about overcrowded prisons and very little about victims,” he said. “The vast majority of our criminal justice policy today center upon reducing punishment, and limiting the tools of law enforcement and prosecutors, all driven by desire to reduce the prison population at all cost, but I submit to you that Alabama does not have an incarceration problem.
“We have a crime problem.”
Some of the policy changes that lawmakers have been discussing in recent months involve efforts to better rehabilitate inmates before release and sentencing reform.
Marshall said they will be evaluating those policy recommendations as they are put forward.
“There are efforts to try to facilitate someone’s release back into a community safely and obviously that is a very positive narrative and we want those to be evidence-based practices that work and obviously we’ll look at those moving forward but the mission is the same,” Marshall said.
When it comes to sentencing reform and what Alabama law considers a “violent” offense, Marshall said crimes like drug trafficking should still be considered a violent offense.
“We see, hand in hand that drug trafficking and violent crime go together and we will clearly advocate that that remain a violent offense,” Marshall said.
Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham said during press conference that he hopes the public will start viewing law enforcement a needed and desired part of societies work force.
“Law enforcement is a profession,” Cunningham said. “It’s a profession where these men and women come to work every single day, because they’ve got a giving attitude and a giving spirit, but it takes all of us working together to make sure that this profession is not a dying profession.”
The seven officers slain in Alabama were:
—Birmingham police Sgt. Wytasha Carter, who was shot and killed in January as officers questioned two people suspected of trying to break into cars in Alabama’s largest city, the police department said.
—Mobile police Officer Sean Tuder, who was shot and killed in January. He was trying to apprehend a suspect when he was killed, the police department said.
—Auburn police Officer William Buechner, who was shot and killed in May while responding to a report of a domestic disturbance.
—Tuscaloosa police Officer Dornell Cousette, who was shot and killed in September while trying to arrest a wanted man. Cousette had spotted the suspect outside and was shot to death after chasing him into a house.
— Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams was shot and killed in November at a convenience store. The attorney general said he was responding to a noise complaint. The teenager charged in his slaying is the son of a deputy in a neighboring county.
—Huntsville police Billy Fred Clardy was shot and killed as a suspect opened fire when officers tried to intercept a suspected drug delivery, his department said.
— Kimberly Police Officer Nick O’Rear was shot and killed earlier this month while helping a neighboring department in a pursuit. The fleeing suspect shot him, Marshall said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.