SELMA, AL (WSFA) - Cutting down on violence in and around Selma continues to be the focus of local leaders as a new administration looks to form a concrete plan of action to attack the problem.
A public forum Tuesday night exposed some of the challenges facing law enforcement in the city and Dallas County and officials revealed what needs to happen to turn things around.
Selma Police Chief John Brock, Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman and Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson addressed the crowd at the public safety town hall meeting at the George Patrick Evans Building, shedding light on some of the obstacles their agencies face and what the officers and deputies are up against in the community.
Chief Brock his department has 43 officers in department to protect 20,000 people inside the city limits. Last year, they fielded 38000 complaints and that only accounts for calls assigned to them through dispatch.
"We're losing officers almost daily mostly because of the pay. They're leaving for other departments where they can make more money," he said. "We're way understaffed but we're trying. I got some good police officers up there."
Brock says Selma's problems are no worse than any other city of its size, but its history makes it a "bulls eye" for negative publicity. He feels that Selma's future is bright, especially with its new leadership and that the more citizens can get involved in the daily operations of the city, the more it will help solve crime.
The district attorney says there are about 30 active gangs in the Selma area. Some of the gangs are local groups and others are affiliated with national gangs. According to Jackson, gangs have "infested" local schools and are responsible for much of the violence and crime.
"We don't need to bury our head in the sand about these gangs," Jackson said. "We've reached a point where all these young guys are carrying guns. Parents need to get control of their kids. A lot of these kids don't think they're going to live to be 25 so if you think that, you don't have anything to lose."
He says the gang crackdown is ongoing and introduced the crowd to members of the Selma/Dallas County Gang Task Force.
"We're going to have to declare war on them. That's just the bottom line. They're going to have to be taken off the streets," What we're trying to do is run them out of Dallas County."
Sheriff Huffman says he understands that people are sometimes afraid to speak up when something happens, but his deputies need information to work off of when trying to investigate cases, urging residents to be the "eyes and ears" for law enforcement in the community.
"Law enforcement can only do so much and it takes all of us, as a city and as a county, to show the thugs, the murderers, and the rapists and the robbers and the burglars that we're not going to put up with this," he added.
The sheriff, police chief and district attorney asked citizens to use the Secret Witness Line (874-2588) or turn to Selma/Dallas County Crime Stoppers (1-866-442-7463) with important information.
"We cannot live in an environment of fear where when we see wrong taking place that we just don't say anything. It's time for us to speak. When we see it's wrong, say something. Report it. That could be you next time," one local leader added at the forum.
Selma Mayor Darrio Melton took office last week and throughout his campaign, pledged to make public safety his top priority.
"All citizens should feel safe at all times, regardless of the time of day or what neighborhood they're in," he said. "We want to take our city back. It's a community effort when you talk about public safety. While we have our law enforcement in place, we have to work together across the board to make sure that every citizen is looking out for each other."
City Council President Corey Bowie says suggestions, comments and concerns left in a box for citizens to submit at the meeting will be reviewed and addressed in a follow-up meeting in the future.
Businesses, churches and neighborhood watch groups also learned what they can do to help in the fight for safer streets.
"We're going to try to give them as much information as we can- churches, business, neighborhood watch groups, and individuals- about safety and what kind of safety plan we're going to work out and how we can help them out," Chief Brock said.
Business owners were encouraged to invest in high quality video surveillance systems. It was recommended that churches have several members monitoring the parking lot and watching as folks walked to their cars.
"It's going to take all of us to figure this out," Sheriff Huffman said. "Crime isn't a law enforcement problem. It's a community problem."
Chief Brock says the department will be increasing patrols in shopping areas during the holiday season for added security and protection. Residents are urged to be aware of their surroundings when they're out making purchases and running errands.
The forum came in the wake of several shooting incidents over the past week alone in Selma. The home of a Selma man was shot into late Sunday night on Pine Needle Drive, according to police.
The resident was not injured.
The district attorney indicated at the meeting that the gunman or gunmen had the wrong target.
"They meant to shoot somebody else," he said.
On Monday, a Selma teenager was shot as he was walking down the street at the intersection of Marie Foster St and Second Avenue
The 17-year-old was grazed in the back of the head, and left with non-life threatening injuries.
Local pastors were also in attendance at the public safety meeting, saying Selma's crime issues need to be tackled from all sides.
"It's going to take unity, togetherness and prayer. I think that's one of the reasons why we've gone through so much stuff, is because we've left God," said Pastor Christ Minter. "With our new mayor and all of the new council members that are coming in, I hope that some answers can be given as far as our city becoming better. Then we need to go to the streets and show these young folks that we love them, give them something to do, have them active in various things so they won't be in trouble."