Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox introduced the foundations of a sweeping community policing plan Tuesday during a special-called meeting of the city's Public Safety Committee, recommending measures from reducing arrests of misdemeanor offenders to improving local recreational sports opportunities.

The large-scale vision, which Maddox named Project Unity, will create two new teams --the Mayor's Alliance for Opportunity and Advancement, and the Chief's Commission for Community Policing. Together, the two groups will work together to present a comprehensive plan by May 2021 that will take major steps to improve the city and its police department based on community input and engagement.

The Mayor's Alliance for Opportunity and Advancement will be focused on education, neighborhood revitalization, economic development and youth sports and recreation. The Chief's Commission for Community Policing will focus on officer recruitment, training and retention and community connection and outreach.

Unwilling to wait that long to take any action, though, Maddox also laid out steps the city can take immediately or in the near future to make fast steps in the right direction.

Those recommendations include improving street lighting throughout the entire city, revising city code as it relates to blighted buildings, transforming the Benjamin Barnes YMCA into a premier athletic center and making major improvements at the Gateway digital library in Alberta.

Maddox also recommended hiring a Deputy Chief for Community Policing, acquiring a simulator that will train officers on de-escalation, guaranteeing police officers can interrupt and/or report abuse by fellow officers or supervisors and adopting a universal unbiased policing policy.

Finally, Maddox proposed the city work with state legislators to amend laws that can't be changed at the municipal level, including allowing the police department to issue citations for minor misdemeanor offenses instead of jailing suspects for crimes such as possession of marijuana or shoplifting.

That measure, if passed, would not decriminalize those offenses and the penalties for those found guilty of those misdemeanors would not change, but it would significantly decrease the number of potentially contentious arrests in the community and free up space in the county jail for violent and repeat offenders.

Maddox said none of his recommendations are set in stone and this process is just beginning, but said the local and national support show after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minnesota Police Department present a unique opportunity to act and make real, significant reforms at the local level.

"We can do great work for the people of Tuscaloosa," Maddox said. "it won't happen overnight but I think in the months and years ahead through this decade we can do something significant that we will continue to be proud of."

Maddox's sweeping recommendations are a lot to digest, from the makeup and specifications of each committee to detailed explanations of each of his recommendations -- you can check out the city's new website outlining the plan, watch the entire presentation below, and stay tuned to the Tuscaloosa Thread for more details as they develop in the months to come.

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