Sheriff Kevin Turner sits in his modest office on the second floor of the Madison County Courthouse. From this perspective, he oversees the main law enforcement department for all of Madison County.
Five floors above the sheriff’s office is the meeting place of the Madison County Commission. This government entity is the budgetary authority for its department. There is a lot of mutual respect between the two groups.
“When I took office, one of the first things we wanted to make sure we had a working relationship with the Madison County Commission,” Turner said. “It has been a good relationship, but the operation of the Madison County Sheriff’s Department can only be carried out with the support of the commission. I can only do what the commission wants with regard to the budget it provides us.
Turner said Commission Chairman Dale Strong was an outstanding advocate for law enforcement, but he added quickly, “Every commissioner has stood up for our department. They all have the public interest, in particular public safety, as their priority. They see the importance of moving the department forward.
This is especially difficult with the phenomenal growth that Huntsville and Madison County are experiencing. Between 2010 and 2020, Madison County’s population increased by 53,342 – from 334,811 in 2010 to 388,153 in 2020.
President Strong says Turner has the combination of skills important to law enforcement officials. “Kevin has been integral to advancing the Madison County Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “He brings leadership and department management qualities to the position. He is the type of individual needed to make sure families across Madison County, including Huntsville, feel absolutely safer living in this community.
This progress is being led by the County Commission’s investment in the workforce for the Sheriff’s Department. Ten years ago, the department had 118 deputies. Today there are 163 MPs and Turner said they are preparing to fill 12 more positions. According to this measure, the number of MPs has increased by 57% over the past decade.
But the commission investment doesn’t stop 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 While the department was known for driving outdated and worn out Crown Vics, that is no longer true.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 had purchased 40 new vehicles and was considering acquiring 30 more. This demonstrates the commission’s support for law enforcement, Turner said.
The Madison County Sheriff’s Department budget in 2014 was $29.2 million, but that figure has grown to $39.7 million since Dale Strong became president.
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 growing population.
Madison County itself is geographically large at 813 square miles, the 15th largest among Alabama’s 67 counties. Meanwhile, Madison County’s population ranks third in the state at 388,153.
There is an impression that the Sheriff’s Department serves Madison County outside the city limits of Huntsville. And while it’s true that sheriff’s deputies have patrols in unincorporated Madison County, the department also has many responsibilities within the city limits of Huntsville.
Examples include things like eviction notices, protective orders, subpoenas, and all felony warrants. These average 1,500 a week, according to public information officer Brent Patterson. Then there are calls for duty – 63,000 in 2020 alone. Then add the operation of the Huntsville-Madison County Jail, which averages 1,000 to 1,100 inmates.
Turner said the workforce involved in carrying out these responsibilities is the biggest challenge facing the sheriff’s department. But he is confident about the future.
“We are satisfied with the direction of the ministry, but we envision continued improvement of the ministry’s infrastructure,” he said. He cites the continued expansion of cooperative partnerships with federal agencies, such as the FBI, more investment in the fleet, and providing deputies with the latest tools and technology.
Turner points out that the Madison County Commission recently purchased the former 911 center. It is intended to become a training facility for law enforcement. A shooting range is another interesting project.
“It is important that we continue to provide the manpower to give our deputies the support they need, and we intend to provide the necessary investment in our law enforcement agency to put the best officers on the street,” Strong said.
Ray Garner is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News.