Sheriff Kevin Turner sits in his modest office on the second floor of the Madison County Courthouse. From that vantage point, he oversees the chief law enforcement department for all of Madison County.
Five floors above the sheriff’s office is the meeting location of the Madison County Commission. That governmental entity is the budget authority for his department. There is a tremendous amount of mutual respect between the two groups.
“When I came into office, one of the first things we wanted to make sure we had a working relationship with the Madison County Commission,” Turner said. “It’s been a good relationship, but the operation of the Madison County Sheriff’s department can only be carried out with the commission’s support. I can only do what the commission wants as far as the budget they provide us.”
Turner said Commission chairman Dale Strong has been an outstanding advocate for law enforcement, but he added quickly, “Every commissioner has stepped up for our department. They all have the public’s best interest as a priority, particularly public safety. They see the importance of moving the department forward.”
This is particularly challenging with the tremendous growth that Huntsville and Madison County are experiencing. Between 2010 and 2020, the population of Madison County grew 53,342 residents – from 334,811 in 2010 to 388,153 in 2020.
Chairman Strong says Turner has the combination of skills important to law enforcement leaders. “Kevin has been an integral part of advancing the Madison County Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “He brings qualities in leadership and management of the department to the job. He is the type of individual that is needed to ensure that families all over Madison County, including Huntsville, should absolutely feel more secure about living in this community.”
That progress is being led by the county commission’s investment in manpower for the Sheriff’s Department. Ten years ago, the department had 118 deputies. Today, there are 163 deputies and Turner said they are preparing to fill 12 additional spots. By that measure the number of deputies has grown 57% during the past decade.
But the commission’s investment doesn’t end there, according to Turner. While the department was known for driving outdated and worn-out Crown Vics that is no longer true. He said his department has bought 40 new vehicles and is looking at acquiring another 30. The commission’s support of law enforcement is demonstrated as a result, Turner said.
The budget of the Madison County Sheriff’s Department in 2014 was $29.2 million but that figure has grown to $39.7 million since Dale Strong has become chairman.
The timing of the Madison County Commission’s investment is crucial, according to Turner. The Sheriff’s Department would otherwise be overwhelmed by the county’s population growth.
Madison County is large geographically in itself with 813 square miles, the 15th largest among Alabama’s 67 counties. Meanwhile, Madison County’s population ranks third in the state with 388,153 residents.
There is an impression that the Sheriff’s Department serves Madison County outside of the Huntsville city limits. And while it’s true that sheriff deputies do have patrols in unincorporated Madison County, the department has numerous responsibilities inside the Huntsville city limits as well.
Examples include such items as eviction notices, protection orders, subpoenas and all felony warrants. Those average 1,500 a week, according to Public Information Officer Brent Patterson. Then there are calls for service – 63,000 in 2020 alone. Then add the operation of the Huntsville-Madison County Jail, which has an average of 1,000 to 1,100 inmates.
Turner said the manpower involved in carrying out those responsibilities is the biggest challenge facing the sheriff’s department. But he’s confident about the future.
“We’re pleased with the direction of the department, but we’re looking at continued improvement in the department’s infrastructure,” he said. He cites continued expansion of cooperation of partnerships with federal agencies, such as the FBI, more investment in the fleet and providing deputies with the most up-to-date tools and technology.
Turner points out that the Madison County Commission purchased the old 911 center recently. It is destined to become a training center for law enforcement. A shooting range is another worthwhile project.
“It’s important that we continue to provide the manpower to give our deputies the support they need, and it is our intention to provide the necessary investment in our law enforcement agency to put the very best officers on the street,” Strong said.
Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.