Alder Springs held a community-wide meeting Monday at the Alder Springs Community Center to discuss thefts that have been happening for several months.

After a prayer to start the meeting, Alder Springs Fire Chief James Edwards thanked everyone that was in attendance. 72 people were present at the meeting. He expressed the need for the community to be safer and explained that there should have been more in attendance from the law enforcement.  The only member who attended the meeting was Jeremy Kirkwood of the Guntersville Police Department.

He said he reached out to the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department, but Phil Sims had another engagement. Sims promised to come to the next meeting, which is set for January 21. He takes office on January 14 and said he will be there on January 21.

The community has had many break-ins and several auto thefts. They have a list of names of the victims along with the ones that are suspected of taking the items.

Edwards stated that he has been in contact with several agents, detectives, patrolmen, Albertville City, the sheriff’s department, Guntersville City and the state. They were open to suggestions on what to do including possibly starting a community watch once again. He asked for volunteers to drive and keep watch of what is going on in the area.

Edwards introduced Chris Ford, who related an encounter that happened to him when he had his work van stolen from him.

Around 12:15 p.m. on Sunday, Ford received a phone call from his mother asking if one of Ford’s staff members was borrowing his vehicle. He was not sure about that so he called one of his guys who would possibly borrow the van. The employee said he was at home which indicated he was not the one to take the van.

The van was gone, but according to his mother, there was a lady still in the area. Ford called Edwards while driving back to his home. He was headed to do some Christmas shopping, but turned around.

Ford returned home and the lady was still there. He asked who she was and she told him. She also told him who took the van and asked him to call them to have them come back to come and get her. He said that she said that they forgot her when they took the van and just wanted them to come back for her.

He told her to sit right there and that he had her a ride coming. At that time, the police pulled up and she told them the same thing that she told Ford.

Her car was in the neighbor’s yard and he suggested that they look in her car. They looked in the car and recovered a lot of stolen items from the vehicle, but she was not arrested.

“She was not arrested,” he said, “and they left her on the scene.”

She gave a statement that her car had been stolen and even asked for Ford to call the people who stole his van to come back and get her. She asked multiple times if they saw the cable truck. She was referring to Ford’s work van.

“What scares me is these people are flying high on drugs,” Ford said. “What are they capable of doing? Are they going to come back after me?”

One of the audience members asked if the police suggested taking a warrant out for her arrest. His response was that they said they would handle it.

He was not happy just sitting still, so he told James that he was going to go look for his work van. He found the address of the man who had allegedly taken his vehicle and was about to go to his home to look for the van after they called the sheriff’s office.

Ford had posted on Facebook that his van had been stolen and was headed to the man’s home when a friend of his called and told him that he had spotted his vehicle near Asbury. He gave him directions to the location where they had last seen the van. His friend thought it was weird that his van was down in Asbury because Ford does not work on Sunday.

The phone service was not working well. He was with his girlfriend’s son and they started asking neighbors if they had seen his work van. Several said that they saw the vehicle and elaborated on what it was doing or the direction it was going. One person said that he saw the van spinning in the fields near his home.

He just continued down the road and he eventually saw his van. Having no phone service, he hit the OnStar button which sent out the 911 stress call. His vehicle was blocking the drive so they did not have much of an exit.

They were sitting around a house that Ford called a “fencing” house. He said that they were operating out of the house. He noticed that a couple of his tool bags and a lot of other items inside the house. The house did not have electricity either, Ford said.

The girlfriend of the man who'd stoles the van started to freak out when they saw Ford. According for Ford, she started loading her car with a bunch of stuff and then jumped in her car and took off.

The man started the van up and Ford blocked more of the driveway. Ford refused to leave because he had him cornered and the police were on their way. The man put the vehicle in reverse like he was going to hit the truck.

“He then put it in drive and shot off into the field,” Ford said.

Ford pursued the vehicle, but lost it. The OnStar operator was telling Ford to get back to the location where the 911 stress call was initiated. He pulled back up to the location and the guy that supposedly owned that house went back inside and closed the doors. Ford let him know that the police were coming.

The sheriff’s department and Edwards showed up around that time. The officer knocked on the door but the owner of the house had already left out the back door. He noticed that a few things of his from the van were in the area.

Ford had a friend who called asking him what was going on and she brought him her van to help load up some of the items that had fallen off the van.

The police and Ford walked around the house. The officer said that if he noticed anything that was his then they could arrest the owner of the house. He noticed three DeWalt bags and let the officer know that they were his. He asked if he was positive and he said that he was sure. Ford then asked the officer if they would arrest the guys and the officer said yes.

Ford said walking all around the house you could tell it was a fencing operation. There were a whole lot of tools and other items around the area.

While they were there, a truck pulled up into the driveway. It was the girlfriend and the person who had been driving the van. Ford let the officer know that he was the one driving the van. They took him in the house and then asked Ford to come into the house for his items.

Ford thought that they were about to arrest him because of all of the tools at the location and because he identified him as the driver. Ford retrieved his stuff and he just knew that they were going to arrest him, but when he went home, no one was arrested.

After being home for a while, he called Edwards and let him know just how nervous he was about the situation. He was afraid that they would take action because he said that they have no remorse for what they are doing.

Ford heard later that week they did arrest the woman. She was not in jail long before she was released on bond. One of the men was arrested, but they only have him for theft of property and he will be released on a bond, according to Ford.

Ford said he wanted everyone at the meeting to know that he respects the law. He just wants to understand why they did not do their jobs.

“I know that they have a hard job and they are way underpaid for what they do,” he said. “I know that they may be doing all that they can. I don’t know, but James and I went out and found my van.”

Ford did get his van back last Tuesday and it is now in the shop. The van was located in DeKalb County on the other side of Asbury. They had pulled it into a field and got the van stuck. They attempted to pull the van out with a tractor and messed the whole front end up.

He only had commercial liability insurance on the van which means that he is paying for the repairs out of his own pocket.

Shelia Banks asked the people in the community center to raise their hands if they had had some property stolen. Many hands went up. She then asked in the last six months and several hands went up. When she asked if someone had something stolen more than once, twice and three times and many hands went up again.

Banks believes that a community watch program is an option to help with the crime in Alder Springs. She has been contacting law enforcement agencies on what the community can do to get help.

She contacted Gov. Kay Ivey’s office and her office sent her to the investigators in Montgomery. They told Banks that they needed a handwritten report for them to investigate. She recommended that each member there send an email to the address she provided on a handout.

“You have a voice,” she said. “The reason I wanted to call this meeting tonight is because I have heard a lot of people stating that they would kill a thief if they come into their yard. Well, if you kill them, then you are going to have to live with it and we are the victims all over again.”

She told about going to her door the other night to lock her deadbolt and she saw someone in a white tee-shirt running through her yard. That put panic and fear in her. She does not want to be afraid anymore.

Banks reiterated that there is strength in numbers so they need to look into a program like the community watch.

One issue that Wanda Parker brought up was that there was a drug halfway house on Rose Road. She stated that after contacting several people, she found out that this place was not controlled by the city, the County Commission nor the police department. This location is supposed to have 24-hour security supervision.

The halfway house was active about three weeks prior to her cousin’s being stolen from on her road. Parker has spoken to many organizations and is trying hard to prevent it from opening back up in their community. She admits that her cousins did not report the theft because they did not believe that it would do any good to speak with police.

Banks said that if something is stolen from your property, make a report. They cannot do anything without having the documentation to help. 

“We need to pull together,” she said. “Anybody that has broke into, stolen from, if you have someone lurking around your house and you’re afraid, call the police. Wear their phones out until they get tired of fooling with us.”

Something needs to be done, they all agreed, because the police are either late on responding or not doing enough. One woman said that it took officers 45 minutes to come to her aid or they are not allowed to cross over property to go after the person. One woman claimed that when she came home one of her vehicles was being broken into and she chased the person into a wooded area until she lost them.

When she came back to her house, the police would not even write a report even though she claims that her daughter’s trailer and her car had damage from someone trying to break in to them.

Officers told her that they could not do the report because there were only three people on duty that night, but they would try to increase patrol in the area. The woman said that they were friendly, but friendliness does not solve the problem.

Joe Jones moved to Alder Springs 16 years ago from Maryland after he retired as a detective from the Maryland State Police. He worked in several department such as the undercover drug operation. He discussed that there needs to be more training for the police departments.

Two of his children’s homes have been broken into since he has lived here. He went into detail on one incident where someone broke into the house while an infant and its mother were taking a nap. They went into the infant’s bedroom and stole the piggy bank which was only a few feet away from the crib.

One of the things that bothered Jones was the fact that Ford said he had to go find his own vehicle. He said that if something were to have happened with the thief and Ford, the thief could have done more damage to Ford by lawsuits and by taking other action. His fear is that someone is going to get killed.

Jones discussed some measures that people can take to protect their property. He said one thing they could do is engrave their tools with their names. Make sure to have deadbolt locks on you home and put up cameras. He suggests that such actions could slow down the criminals.

One of the main issues mentioned several times was the fact that people are being arrested and released before they even get to the jail.

“I work kind of hand-in-hand a lot of times with the police officers,” Edwards said, “and I have seen it. They’ll arrest a guy or girl and before they can get that individual out of that car into the police department or sheriff's department, they have already had to turn them loose because of a judge or lawyer or someone has said you have to cut them loose.”

Edwards said that Albertville and Guntersville have been the best to respond to calls.

Banks asked the people if they had any suggestions and a few spoke up believing that a community watch was not the answer. The people that are getting stolen from are working during the day and can only patrol at night. They did not believe this was the best way to handle the situation.

“The bottom line is that we do not have the answers, but we are looking for them,” Banks said. “Before you come back to the meeting on Jan. 21, get ideas in your mind. Come back with some options.”

While at the meeting, Joe Jones’s son's home was broken into. He is a truck driver and he was in Ohio. According to Banks, the police said that they could not do a report because Jones was not there to do the report. The burglar busted out the sliding glass door and stole a television from him.

The next meeting will be at Corinth Baptist Church on January 21 at 7 p.m. They would like to see more law enforcement and other agencies involved at the meetings. All are welcome to attend.

For more information, contact James Edwards at 256-302-4161. The email address for the investigators in Montgomery is invest@ago.state.al.us

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