Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway says he has a vision for his second term.
“There are things that we started in the sheriff’s office that we haven’t finished yet,” said Pettway, the 58-year-old Democratic nominee for the county’s top police position.
“We did everything we fought for,” Pettway said.
Pettway was the underdog in 2018 when he defeated five-year-old Sheriff Mike Hale to become Jefferson County’s first black sheriff. He will face Republican nominee Jared Hudson on November 8th.
“I trust in the Lord,” Pettway said.
Pettway grew up in College Hills in Birmingham’s Smithfield Ward. He graduated from Ensley High School, attended Jefferson State Community College and graduated from Faulkner University with a degree in business administration.
He and his wife Vanessa have been married for almost 30 years. They have two adult daughters who both graduated from the University of Alabama.
In 1991, Pettway began his law enforcement career with the Birmingham Police Department as a corrections officer at the city jail. In 1993 he joined the Fairfield Police Department before moving to the sheriff’s office in 1999. In 2008 he was promoted to the Detective Bureau investigating violent crimes.
Pettway campaigned in 2018 to keep schools safe, provide the best education, bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement, and help inmates gain schooling and vocational training to find jobs upon release .
“We now have an alternate in every school in the county and some in some private schools,” he said.
He points to initiatives including Renewed for Reentry — a program aimed at making inmates employable after they are released — and Jobs Not Jail — a program designed to help any interested resident write resumes, interview and dress for success.
“We’ve also done some things in the community — to strengthen the community,” he said. “It will reduce recidivism and curb violent crime.”
Pettway also pledged to improve training and equipment for MPs and unveiled a new, state-of-the-art training center.
“We now have body cameras for all MPs outside of prison,” he said.
Pettway announced the grant-funded Crisis Care Center in partnership with the JBS Mental Health Authority and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Instead of being arrested, Pettway said, people with addictions and mental illness will get the care they need.
“We need them to have somewhere else to be treated than a prison and it allows MPs to get back to work much faster so we’re not tied down with someone waiting in a hospital room for hours ‘ Pettway said.
Pettway said violent crime in unincorporated Jefferson County has fallen by double digits. He said homicides and violent crime were down 29 percent. His office released crime statistics showing a decrease in the main crime categories except auto burglary and auto theft.
“We had 13 homicides in Fairfield last year. This year we only had one.”
“The presence of MPs prevents crime,” he said. “They’ve done a really good job being present in a lot of areas, especially the areas where we have violent crime.”
Pettway’s critics say staff and morale are low under his supervision. Pettway disagrees.
“We’re only about 30 MPs downstairs,” he said. “I’d like the number of slots to get 200 more MPs, unfortunately the county won’t do that.”
He said the office is in the process of hiring seven or eight more MPs. It is budgeted for around 523 MPs.
As for morals, he said, it depends who you ask.
“Some people will say morale is low and others will say morale is high,” he said. “We were able to get MPs a 5 percent raise… and we were able to get them all the equipment they need.”
“We have a brand new training facility, a mobile commando unit,” he said.
Pettway said his deputies are still not being paid the way they deserve.
“We’re fighting every day to get them a better wage here…we’re trying to make that happen so we can keep good employees and hire new ones,” Pettway said.
“Tuscaloosa pays $51,000 to start with and we only pay $41,000. Shelby County is paying $55,000 and so is Helena, so we’re way behind on salaries to be competitive, but we’re still able to sustain our department,” he said. “People love working for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.”
A priority for his second term is the construction of a regional prison. The facility would be designed to accommodate inmates from all of the county’s communities, including inmates from the sheriff’s office.
“We’re going to be able to accommodate more inmates and have more programs related to their rehab,” Pettway said. “The facility would include an advanced infirmary that would even allow dialysis to be performed on-site.”
The new prison, he said, would also offer more trade and skills training for inmates.
“We don’t mind locking up the bad guys, but we will also try to help those who want to try to change their lives,” he said. “Above all, we want to work smart and not hard. It costs money to have someone jailed, but we want to make sure we don’t destroy our budget by trying to have all these sick people in jail.”
Pettway has been criticized for his dealings with bingo halls, having been accused of allowing them to operate against state law to help his brother, Bruce Pettway.
“My brother does not own bingo here in Jefferson County, nor is he an affiliate in bingo, nor does he have any investments in bingo,” Pettway said. “He was a partner in Greene County years ago, but that was resolved before I even became a sheriff.”
“I don’t own bingo,” the sheriff said.
Pettway said he will enforce the law in the bingo halls. He said he had sent cease and desist letters to bingo halls and had been informed by their lawyers that they had business licenses.
“We had a lot of bingo machines locked up that cost us money and the cases didn’t go to court,” he said.
Pettway said he likes his chances of re-election.
“Mike Hale had a lot of money, notoriety, signs, he had Democrats, he had Republicans,” he said. “I was David going up against a giant, so last time out it was a much tougher fight against a very well-known, very experienced opponent.”
“The fight is different this time,” he said of his race with Hudson. “I’m up against someone who isn’t well-known. Nobody knows this guy.”