Emergency Management Student Initiates Volunteer Force
By Carol Robinson
The Birmingham News
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office volunteer force would protect dignitaries
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Call it VIPS for VIPs: Volunteers in policing and securing very important people. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, stretched thin by budget cuts and the daily business of crime, has launched a Dignitary Protection Unit for those times it is called upon to protect VIPs who travel into the county.
The unit will be manned completely by sheriff's reserve officers, who volunteer their services.
"This is a volunteer unit that will ease the burden of our regular deputy personnel and at zero cost to our taxpayers," said Chief Deputy Randy Christian.
Reserve Sgt. Brady B. McLaughlin came up with the idea following the 2011 shooting of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was critically wounded in an assassination attempt while meeting with constituents at a supermarket near Tucson.
"We wanted to make sure that would not happen again," McLaughlin said. "The Secret Service protects some people ... but there are still a wide range of elected officials not protected."
McLaughlin said he presented his proposal to Sheriff Mike Hale, who readily agreed and set the plan in motion in mid-January.
The 10-person team has a combined total of 50 years of honorable military service, and 100 years in public service. It also boasts a physician, two paramedics and an EMT.
Sheriff's officials said it is the first volunteer protection unit established in Alabama.
"We can be compared, on a smaller scale, to the Secret Service's protective mission. From advancing a location to ensuring motorcade routes are planned, we are able to enhance the safety of those whom we protect," said McLaughlin, a former Fairhope police officer. "In fact, the Secret Service has arranged for my team to complete advanced training in dignitary protection offered through their training division."
Already, the DPU has protected dignitaries at events ranging from luncheons and public speeches to disaster surveys in the aftermath of recent tornadoes. Those they have protected include former Gov. Bob Riley and his wife, Patsy, and several members of the state Senate and House of Representatives.
"The unit was born out of a lack of normal resources and a willingness by volunteers that care a great deal about the sheriff's office and this community," Christian said. "They just have the heart of a servant."
Hale said the unit will be used on an as-needed basis.
"In the best of situations, we would have the resources to handle this with regular personnel," Hale said. "We are in tough times, and I really appreciate this group being willing to serve on a volunteer basis. Make no mistake, they are a sharp, well-trained unit that we have a lot of confidence in."
Carol Robinson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.