Sheriff’s office says population has grown in the area, but crime hasn’t

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: June 28, 2006

Lynn Edwards owns two local stores, one in Jacksonville and one in Alexandria.

The Jacksonville store has been burglarized twice recently, with “people stealing whatever they can get their hands on,” he said.

The store in Alexandria, Valley Meats and Deli, was broken into several years ago but has not had any problems since. On Tuesday morning some suspicious scratch marks could be seen near the door’s lock, but Edwards said they could have come from carrying in boxes.

As the population of Alexandria has grown in the last few years, so have concerns about a rise in crime. But such fears may be unfounded, according to the sheriff’s office.

Because Alexandria is not an incorporated town, its law enforcement is handled by the sheriff’s office. Chief Deputy Matthew Wade, who lives in Alexandria, said it is generally a safe area.

“As far as it being a high-crime area, I would say that’s not the case,” Wade said. “The neighborhood I live in, we all know each other. It’s kind of like the old times … People still trust their neighbors and believe in having good neighbors.”

As people move into the county’s jurisdiction from towns such as Anniston and Oxford that have their own police forces, Wade said, the sheriff’s office has seen an increase in calls for service. But he said that does not necessarily reflect an increased crime rate.

“The sheriff’s office has seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls for service,” he said. “Personnel hasn’t grown at the same rate as it should have to keep up with the calls for service.”

The types of crime seen most frequently in Alexandria, Wade said, are “crimes against property.”

“There’s always the occasional crime against person,” he said. “Normally when you have property crimes, it’s people that come from other areas and prey on people’s homes when they’re at work.”

Several Alexandria residents agreed that the crimes they hear about most are ones like breaking and entering or car theft. Most also said they do not think of Alexandria as a high-crime area.

“It’s very tight-knit,” said Jodie Thompson, who moved from Heflin in April. “I’ve heard that there were some people who got their cars broken into but I’ve never felt scared at any point – everybody has great neighbors who look out for each other.”

Thompson lives on Gate Five Road, which in March was the site of one of the most violent crimes in Alexandria in recent memory. In a gunfight that police said was motivated by drug money, a man shot at two others with an AK-47 assault rifle and was critically injured himself.

Thompson said she was not aware of the incident. Other neighbors said they do not think crime is a big issue in the area.

Wade said Alexandria “would not be considered a high drug area.”

“With the number of vehicles that go up and down (U.S. 431) there’s going to be people that have drugs in their vehicle … but that’s not from Alexandria residents,” Wade said.

Some long-time Alexandria residents said they welcomed newcomers to the area.

“The people that are moving in seem to be quality people that will be an asset to the community,” said J.D. Hess, the county commissioner for the area.

Hess added that he hasn’t “really noticed anything out of the normal” in terms of crime.

Clarence Page, a lifelong resident of Alexandria and owner of Stormco Manufacturing, said he thinks that “on a percentage-wise” basis crime has gone up due to more drug use.

“When you get a lot of people together, of course there’s going to be change in the community,” Page said. “It’s an ongoing thing, I guess: when you have more people you’re going to have more problems.”

Page added that he thinks Alexandria is “one of the safer communities in the county or in the state.”

One concern for law-enforcement officials and Alexandria locals is the increase in traffic on U.S. 431 and the side roads.

Thompson said she thinks the biggest issue on Gate 5 Road is “that people drive too fast.” Wade said conditions are becoming increasingly dangerous on U.S. 431, which has a 65-mph speed limit through Alexandria.

“You have more and more traffic coming in and out of the highway,” he said. “If you have an accident, someone hits you in the side at 65 miles per hour, it’s definitely going to be a more serious accident even if you’re doing the speed limit.”

He added that deputies are frequently out on U.S. 431 because it is centrally located to the rest of the county. Page said the officers are a visible presence in the community. He said he would oppose incorporating even if it meant Alexandria would have its own police force.

“We depend on the sheriff’s department who’s doing a great job, I think, out here in the community,” Page said. “Patrolling you see them, and that’s who we depend on keeping us safe.”

Thompson, too, said she often sees patrol cars on her street.

“The guys who were breaking into the cars got caught, so the police obviously were trying to be on top of things,” she said.

Wade said several members of the sheriff’s department live in the area.

“It attracts good honest people that are hard working,” Wade said. “It’s a close-knit community – most everybody out there knows the other person.”

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