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Chief: Crime spree won’t be tolerated

Four people have been murdered since late September and others wounded, including a young child.
Dothan Police Chief Will Benny in this October 19, 2021 photo.
Dothan Police Chief Will Benny in this October 19, 2021 photo.(WTVY)
Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 6:44 AM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) -A recent crime wave that left some dead and others wounded concerns Dothan Police Chief Will Benny.

“The FBI had warned us the violent crime spike of last year would continue,” Benny told News 4 on Monday, one day after the city’s most recent murder.

In 2021, homicides nationwide were up 30 percent and other violent crimes also escalated, likely because of frustrating lifestyle changes brought on by the pandemic.

However, there are no indications that COVID played into Dothan’s recent rash of violent crimes—four murders since September 27. So far this year nine homicides have occurred, not excessive for a city of Dothan’s size---about 70,000 people. However, Benny believes a crime dip would occur if more officers patrolled the streets. Local statistics solidify those beliefs.

“We had an increase in shots fired calls this year (nearly 600 as of Monday) and an increase in calls with guns involved. However, our gun-related arrests are down,” he said.

Less officers mean less interaction with people, some criminals who could be deterred. Currently, Dothan has 151 officers, 50 less that FBI recommendations for a city its size and 20 less slots that the city funds. Police recruitment and retention are a challenge.

“The city has taken some steps to address that,” Chief Benny said.

With a new pay package, rookie officers earn about $42,000 a year, but after taxes and other deductions, their bring home pay is barely $600 weekly. There are opportunities for overtime and outside contract employment, such as private event and church security.

Once, those who joined the Dothan Police Department made it a career but no longer. Retention has fallen with officers leaving for better paying jobs and others losing their public service passion.

“When we lose a police officer it takes about 11 months to train someone to do the job,” Benny said.

Though adamant about hiring and keeping officers, the chief knows that alone won’t squelch crime. “There is no police strategy that exists to stop (those in a domestic) argument from picking up a gun and (shooting),” he said.

Most murders in Dothan are committed by those who know their victims, many of them repeat offenders. Take Monday’s murder. Two women argued about the lover they shared and it escalated, Dothan Police Lieutenant Scott Owens said.

Sometimes, though, violent crimes go unsolved because victims and witnesses are uncooperative, perhaps fearing retribution.

“Communities of color especially are not wanting to talk to police,” the chief said.

Such is the case with Sunday’s drive-by shootings that left three, including a toddler, wounded. Police say 20 or more people were in the area, but few have cooperated with the investigation.

Dothan City Commissioner Aristotle Kirkland, who represents the predominantly African American district where those shootings happened, shares Benny’s frustration.

“The people have to come together and bring (criminals) to justice,” Kirkland said during Tuesday’s commission meeting. He also believes illegal guns must be taken off the streets.

Benny hints police are working on an innovative plan to crack down on crime.

“This type of behavior is not going to be tolerated in this city, not as long as I sit here,” he promised.

Copyright 2021 WTVY. All rights reserved.

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