Officers put public's safety first

Published 11:21 pm Wednesday, October 13, 2004

By By Arthur McLean
(Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories on the city's response to hurricane Ivan. Look for the Fire Department's story in a future issue.)
With the approach of Hurricane Ivan, every city department went on alert. Like the Atmore Police Department, they worked as long as possible into the night, and ventured out before the storm was truly over.
This is the hurricane story of the men and women of the Atmore Police Department.
"Like a lot of homeowners, when the storm was approaching, we gassed up our cars, bought extra batteries and other supplies," said Police Chief Jason Dean. "But no one really knew how bad it was going to be."
As a precaution, Dean called all 28 sworn officers and six support employees to be on standby. "I asked everybody who could, to take a (patrol) car home to be ready for the next day," Dean said.
As the rains continued to pour, more activity took place. An officer was stationed at the Red Cross shelter, and patrols were stepped up before conditions degraded.
Through the late evening hours, the streets emptied of people and cars with only the police, fire and other city departments running.
As the brunt of the storm started to bear down, officers continued to respond. "We needed to stay out as long as possible so we could offer assistance, but it was getting dangerous."
Dean called his units back to the police station. "The debris began flying. What you couldn't see, you could hear," Dean said. "I was at the Diamond Oil on 8th Avenue when I saw the awning start peeling off."
Dean called his units off the road and they came back to the station to ride out the storm in the dark.
Just before daylight the morning after, officers tried to hit the road, not knowing what they would find. "You couldn't go one square city block that morning," Dean said. "We had officers walking down blocked streets checking on houses that were damaged and responding to people who called."
Dispatchers worked to handle phone systems that were not functioning well because of the storm damage. Cell phones and Southern Linc phones and radios were out or intermittent when they worked.
"It seemed like it went on for days," Dean said. "But the street department did a great job working hard to open the streets, and we worked with them to handle traffic," Dean said.
In Ivan's wake, shifts were extended for all the officers. Some couldn't even make it into the city after the storm. Most left damage to their own properties to work in the city.
Two patrol cars were destroyed when the city barn was damaged.
Some businesses were looted shortly after the storm, but Dean said two people have been arrested, and more may be soon to follow.
Help came in the form of a battalion of State Troopers. "They did a fantastic job of helping us with traffic during the day, and we were able to flood the night shift with officers to protect homes and businesses while the power was out," Dean said.
"There were the Troopers, and Sheriff (Grover) Smith did a great job of getting police and sheriff's deputies from outside the county to come and help.
"Chief Glenn Carlee worked a lot of hours making sure all those men had a place to sleep and hot meals. The fire department would work all day bringing them cold drinks," Dean said. "There's a lot more to it than a lot of people think."
"I'm very proud of the way our men and women responded to this disaster. I'm Proud of all the city departments," Dean said. "They worked very hard and they worked long hours putting the safety and security of the people of Atmore first."

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