New chief sees changes on horizon

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 17, 2005

Riding with Paul Allen, you get the feeling that the turns and twists from road to road have all become second nature to the 18-year veteran of the Luverne Police Department.

"This is what I love, yes sir," he says. "Patrolling. I love it."

Allen, recently promoted to police chief, looks upon his job as part-law enforcement, part-public relations. He's out each day among the people of Luverne, collecting any concerns they have and visiting with local merchants. He wants the taxpayer to know that they're getting what they're paying for - a quality police department.

"I have a dedicated police force," says Allen. "Each individual is unique, but everyone has something to add. We have a good group of people."

The department is fortunate, says Allen, because the turnover rate for officers in Luverne hasn't been a problem. Most of the officers have lived in the area all of their lives and there's a good blend of experience and youth, he says.

"But I believe that management has a lot to do with the turnover rate and I don't foresee that as being a problem," he says. "I want to make it where people want to come to work. I remember when our reserves would ride at least three times a week with full-time police officers. That was just because they enjoyed the camaraderie. It was an enjoyable time and looking forward to getting that back."

He credits any management skills he learned to two people - chief Bob Davis, who Allen replaced, and former mayor John Harrison. Allen has worked under three chiefs: Grady Johnson (1986-90), Kent Cochran (91-94), and Davis (94-04). He credits former police officer Billy Schofield for bringing him into the force.

"In my free time, I'd just come out and ride with Billy as a reserve," he says. "He was a good friend."

Allen frequently greets people on the streets with a handshake and stops his patrol car to talk with nearby pedestrians. Since protecting people is his number one concern, Allen feels it's only right that a small-town police officer should be seen, heard and approachable.

Working in a town with the motto, 'Friendliest City in the South', helps also.

"Luverne is a wonderful place to live," he says. "The citizens are good people. I believe our last homicide was 10 years ago, inside the town. We deal with a lot of petty burglaries, theft and drugs. No one is immune in this day and age."

Drugs and the toll it takes on both victim and their relatives is something of a primary concern for Allen. Being the father of two, he says it is an obligation for adults that children understand the horror of drug use. The DARE Program, Allen says, is a wonderful project his department offers that gets officers in the schools to teach children about the dangers of drugs.

"Anything we can do to hinder the manufacture and sale of any type of narcotics is an obligation we must take on," he says. "Children are our future."

Allen has several changes planned on the horizon for the police department. He'd like to add in-car cameras to all patrol cars, (the force currently has two cars with installed cameras), and provide in-depth training for each of his officers. He also wants to see the city's police office on Forest Ave. expanded to accommodate an interrogation room of some sort and the department is currently in the process of applying for a victim services grant. For victims, particularly of abuse or rape, this grant would allow a service officer, either a patrolman or someone else in the community, to be there for a victim from the initial start of a case through to trial.

"They'd be there for moral support if it was wanted by the victim," says Allen.

Allen would also like to purchase an AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) program for the department. The program, part of a national computer database, takes out the human error of identifying fingerprints, says Allen, and costs around $60,000 to implement.

And with the extension of the city limits to include the SMART Plant on Highway 331, Allen says the department could use two more patrolmen.

However, he says the growth of the town's police force will directly coincide with the growth of Luverne and Crenshaw County.

"These are things that we're going to have to slowly approach," he says. "We have a wonderful mayor (Joe Rex Sport) who is business minded and orientated. We also have a great council and when the time comes, we'll get the manpower and equipment we need."

All in all, he says, being a police officer is a 'thankless' job because of the potentially devastating consequences one faces in the line of duty.

"The thought that goes through my mind when I wake up in the morning," Allen says, "is I may not be coming home tonight. Because you never know when the next bullet is going to be fire. It used to be that when someone was shot and killed, it used to shock you. What shocks you now?"