- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

July 28

Gadsden (Alabama) Times on protecting military installations:

The July 16 attacks on two military installations in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that left four Marines and a sailor dead of course caused outrage across the U.S. That anger was magnified by the belief that a supposed ban on the carrying of firearms at military sites by anyone other than military police left those victims defenseless.

We say “supposed” because the directive issued in 1992 by the Department of Defense under President George H.W. Bush does not include the word “ban.” It says the issuing of weapons to other military or civilian personnel should be considered on a case-by-case basis, balancing the need for protection against the consequences from potential accidents.

What happened in Chattanooga established a pretty strong security need, and we’d like to see this case and the directive revisited, although it’s not going to be as easy as signing a sheet of paper or sending an email.

Military recruiting centers often are on private rather than government property, meaning individual state firearms laws take precedence. That won’t create an issue in gun-friendly places like Alabama or Texas. It might elsewhere.

Some local officials aren’t waiting for federal action. Gov. Robert Bentley on Monday ordered armed National Guard members to be stationed at recruiting centers in Alabama. He said little more than that, citing security concerns.

We hope the guardsmen never have to pull a trigger in anger, but we have no problem with them being used this way, or with Bentley and National Guard commanders keeping mum on the details.

There’s a presupposition these folks know what to do with a firearm. The same is true with law enforcement personnel. DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris last week announced that he wants his deputies to carry concealed weapons when off-duty. Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin has had that policy in place for years.

We can’t say as much, however, for the well-meaning, heart-in-the-right-place civilians who have grabbed their guns and been standing guard at military recruiting centers since the Chattanooga shootings.

Some of them are military veterans, but others aren’t. That disparity in training and skills is what makes this a potentially dangerous situation. One of those non-veterans, who described himself as a “gun enthusiast,” accidentally fired a round from an AR-15 into the pavement outside a recruiting center in Lancaster, Ohio. He got a misdemeanor summons and police made his group leave, since the center was on private property.

The Department of Defense also has asked civilians elsewhere to stand down. Some are listening, but others aren’t, and we hope it doesn’t get to the point of confrontation.

We think this fervor and support for the military would be best directed toward Washington, pushing the White House and Congress to let military personnel defend themselves in domestic settings. It’s what they’ve been trained for.




July 29

Decatur (Alabama) Daily on police body cameras:

In the past year, a string of high-profile confrontations - some fatal - between law enforcement officers and the citizens they’re sworn to serve and protect has highlighted the usefulness of body cameras.

Equipping officers with body cameras, however, is just the first step in improving relations between police and the citizenry, and restoring a sense of trust.

Locally, the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office and the Athens Police Department have led the way in outfitting their personnel with body cameras. Last week, the Decatur Police Department announced it will spend $125,000 on roughly 130 cameras and technology upgrades to store the footage recorded.

Morgan County issued its deputies and jailers 75 body cameras five years ago, but most of those cameras quickly became inoperable, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Local law enforcement officers said they’re in favor of wearing body cameras, despite some inconveniences, because the cameras record the truth. That is a good thing to hear. If law enforcement were making excuses not to use body cameras, residents might wonder what law enforcement has to hide.

Body cameras don’t come cheap, and with mostly flat tax revenue coming into county coffers, some departments may find it difficult to purchase the body cameras they need in sufficient quantities to equip all of their officers and deputies who have contact with the public. That said, law enforcement should make purchasing body cameras a priority. This is law enforcement in the 21st century, and if the average citizen can walk around with a camera-equipped phone in his pocket, there is no excuse for the average officer not to have a functioning body camera.

Had there been body camera footage in the shooting death of Michael Brown last August in Ferguson, Missouri, weeks of unrest and vandalism possibly could have been avoided.

Yet even when there is body or dash camera footage, not everyone sees the footage the same way.

In the case of Sandra Bland, her encounter with a Texas sheriff’s deputy was recorded on a dash camera, but people bring their own agendas to the footage. Bland later died while in custody, and while her death initially was ruled self-inflicted, a new investigation has been opened.

Some view the footage of Bland’s arrest and see an uncooperative driver who brought her arrest upon herself. Others look at it and see a deputy who seems intent on escalating an already tense situation.

It is all well and good to say citizens are to respect the authority of law enforcement officers. The fact remains officers need to be properly trained for those situations when citizens aren’t respectful. Knowing how to de-escalate a tense situation is part of basic training, but in cases such as Bland’s arrest, it seems some officers are in need of a refresher course.

If a suspect is having a tantrum, we should expect - and demand - that our law enforcement officers be above it.

Once law enforcement is properly equipped with body cameras, the cameras will be on all of us.




July 28

Dothan (Alabama) Eagle on resolving state government budget woes:

Alabama lawmakers are set to convene in a special legislative session next week to brainstorm solutions to a gaping chasm between anticipated revenues and projected expenses in the General Fund budget, which they failed to resolve in the regular session this spring.

It won’t be easy to correct, particularly since there are many pressing problems that have been caused by years of underfunding, such as the prison system’s population at almost double the capacity of its facilities.

However, lawmakers shouldn’t simply look at ways to cut spending or increase revenue. They must also spend smarter. One way to do that will cost about $25 million a year, which should be approved immediately.

The Legislature passed - and the governor signed into law — a measure that would enact a bit of sentencing reform and shift into community corrections many inmates who might otherwise head to the state penitentiary. The change is beneficial for several reasons - it would reduce the inmate population and mitigate the overcrowding problem, it would lower the cost of housing an inmate by $35 per inmate per day, and it would provide a more appropriate punishment for some crimes.

The urgency comes from the requirement that the initiative be fully funded by January or the law will be voided.

In the grand scheme of things, $25 million isn’t too much of a hit to the state budget. By comparison, the state’s tax holiday scheduled for next month’s back-to-school purchases will affect about $1 billion in eligible sales, according to the state retailer’s association. That’s roughly $40 million in sales tax revenue that the state will forgo for back-to-school shoppers.

Alabama lawmakers must put our money where their better ideas are. A law without the resources to be implemented is worse than no law at all.



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