While some U.S. cities looked for ways to reduce or reallocate public safety resources in 2022, Huntsville took the opposite approach by increasing manpower, refining training tactics and purchasing new vehicles and equipment.
In his 14th annual State of the City address, Mayor Tommy Battle reiterated that public safety is a top priority in Huntsville. He praised the sacrifices the Huntsville Police Department (HPD) and Huntsville Fire & Rescue (HFR) make daily to protect life and property.
“Public safety is priority one, and one that demands we recruit the best and brightest and leverage the most advanced training procedures in the country,” Mayor Battle said. “We’re employing innovative methods to meet our challenges head on.”
Here are five public safety highlights from 2022:
1. Recruitment and retention
Huntsville Police and Huntsville Fire & Rescue stepped up their recruitment efforts in 2022. Both departments held a series of outreach events that provided opportunities to learn more about the benefits of serving the public.
The City increased minimum pay for new police officers from $51,000 to $54,975. Officers who graduate from the Huntsville Police Academy and complete field training will make $60,694. Starting pay for firefighter cadets also jumped to $52,416 and will increase to $57,824 after the competition of training.
HPD added 25 new officers in 2022, including seven who recently completed the academy. HPD will host two additional academies in 2023 and hopes to recruit certified police officers from across the country.
HFR welcomed 35 new recruits, 18 of whom have completed their training and are now firefighters. The remainder will graduate in late February of 2023. An additional 25 will start work in January 2023.
2. Equipment and facilities
HPD put dozens of new vehicles into service over the past year, including more than 70 patrol and investigative vehicles, as well as an armored vehicle for the SWAT team.
Last year, the City spent $17 million in federal COVID stimulus money to order 21 new fire trucks, all outfitted with advanced operational and safety features to ensure the safety of the public and personnel. HFR received and put into service two new pumpers and a ladder truck in early 2022. Seventeen new pumpers, three ladder trucks and a new hazardous materials truck will arrive in early 2023.
Another big development this year was the groundbreaking on Fire Station 20 on Burgreen Road that will serve homes and businesses in west Huntsville, one of the City’s fastest-growing areas. Funding was also approved for a drill field to enhance firefighter training.
3. Operations and oversight
Mayor Battle consistently praises HPD and HFR because leadership strives to hire the best recruits while leveraging training procedures that are the most advanced in the country. Each department has shown they are flexible enough to address community challenges as they occur.
To that end, HPD strengthened its commitment to the community through a successful partnership with WellStone Behavioral Health. The department’s Co-Responder Program allows those in crisis get the help they need in a manner that ensures the well-being of the citizen and responding officers.
HPD also doubled down on training in other areas, including training cadets on how to handle fluid, real-life scenarios. It also bolstered officer safety by providing multiple Jujitsu classes designed to protect officers when dealing with a combative subject.
The department continues to welcome guidance from the all-volunteer Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council, which helps shape HPD policy and procedure. Meeting monthly with appointments made by City Council members and Mayor Battle, the HPCAC ensures Huntsville is an operationally transparent police department challenged to be above board in its interactions with the public.
4. Community outreach and events
As in previous years, HPD once again hosted or participated in numerous community outreach events to inform the public through educational initiatives and even a little fun. Those included drug takebacks, assistance with Huntsville Parks & Recreation’s Eggstravaganza and education sessions focused on raising awareness about sexual abuse and curbing violence.
The department welcomed over 10,000 people at its free Halloween Party and Haunted House at The Orion Amphitheater. Most recently, HPD hosted Shop with a Hero, an annual event ensuring underserved children have presents under the tree.
HFR celebrated its bicentennial in 2022 and marked the occasion with a community celebration at the Huntsville Depot Roundhouse. The event marked the unveiling of a mural commissioned by the department that celebrates 200 years of service to Huntsville. The mural is displayed at the City’s Public Safety Training Center.
In addition to hiring new police officers and firefighters, both departments promoted personnel to leadership roles. HFR promoted a captain to fire district chief, while three drivers rose to the rank of captain.
HPD promoted one patrol officer to the role of sergeant. Kirk Giles, who previously served in the roles of sergeant, lieutenant, captain, deputy chief and executive officer, is now Chief of Police after being appointed by Mayor Battle.
“Kirk brings a distinguished 45-year career to the position,” Mayor Battle said. “Under his leadership, we anticipate our department will continue to be one of the most innovative and effective and innovative in the country.”