After a third inmate escape in Limestone County in less than five months, some folks want to see some changes--specifically, how and when they’re notified of these escapes.
Bryan Vincent and Jeremy Tucker walked away from their work detail at Vulcan Plastics early Sunday morning. Vincent was captured Sunday evening, but Tucker is still on the run.
WAAY 31 spoke with folks who say they would've liked to have known about the escapes sooner.
“I just thought, ‘Why am I just now hearing about this?’”
It wasn’t until he was watching WAAY 31 News Sunday night that an unnamed Limestone County resident learned two inmates walked away from their work release site about eighteen hours earlier—not far from some of his loved ones.
“I have friends and family who live within an hour’s walking distance easily from where he escaped," he said. "If there’s someone on the loose who could be dangerous, I want to know about it.”
That’s because the man says he’d like to protect himself and his family.
“He committed a crime to be in there in the first place. He committed another one to escape, and he would probably have to commit another one to stay on the run," he said. "What if he came by my house? Home invasion or steal my car.”
The man has an idea that he believes would not only benefit folks who live near the reported escapes, but would help local law enforcement by getting more people to be on the lookout for the inmates.
“I’d like to get an alert on my cell phone," he said. "I can get alerts for floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and all sorts of things, but why not a crime?”
“Mass notification is something, first of all, that’s costly to implement; but, second, it’s not something we would’ve used in this instance anyway, because mass notifications are public alerts for imminent threats," Stephen Young with the Limestone County Sheriff's Office said.
Young said he sees the value behind mass notifications in some instances. For example, Amber Alerts help to locate children who may be in danger. He also knows some local agencies who have similar systems in place and said it makes sense.
"EMA does it for probably what is our most common and most likely public threat, which is tornadic weather," he said.
But Young said the escaped inmates did not pose an imminent threat, and sending out a mass notification about incidents like this would just cause unnecessary alarm.
“You hear ‘inmate,’ you think ‘inmate.’ An inmate’s an inmate," Young said. "But, in reality, there’s a vast difference--when your concern is public safety--between an inmate that escapes from a maximum or medium security facility and somebody who walks off a work release site.”
Young said inmates involved in the work release program are serving time for lesser, non-violent charges.
The sheriff’s office told WAAY 31 they rely on social media to notify folks when things like inmate escapes happen. They said it’s proven to be very successful and doesn’t cost them a dime.
But some folks don’t use social media and think safety shouldn’t have a price tag.
“What’s a human life worth? We spend money for all kinds of alert systems to keep people safe," one man said. "I think that’s part of the ‘serve and protect’ role of the law enforcement agencies: to inform the public.”
For those who do use social media to stay informed, you can go to your settings on Facebook and Twitter and set it up where you receive a notification on your phone every time a certain account, like the Limestone County Sheriff's Office, makes a post. Because of the success their agency has had with this tool, Young says a mass notification system probably wouldn't be utilized enough.
“It would be under-used, because we probably wouldn’t have a lot coming out of the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction that we deal with that says ‘You’re in immediate danger,’" he said.
But one man WAAY 31 spoke with said he believes all inmates should be considered dangerous, and he wants to be made aware right away when they’re on the run.
“I just don’t want to encounter one," he said. "And if I do, I’d like to be prepared for it; but I’ve got to know to be prepared."
"If there ever becomes an indication where somebody might be a violent threat to people on the street, then we will let you know," Young said. "We will find a way to notify people."
Two state inmates have escaped in neighboring Morgan County so far this year. WAAY 31 reached out to the Alabama Department of Corrections for a comment on a mass notification system, but we’re still waiting to hear back.
Limestone County deputies are still searching for Jeremy Tucker.
Deputies tell WAAY 31 they’ve been getting information on Tucker’s whereabouts and are following all leads.
We asked the sheriff's office if they’d be reforming their work release program after this most recent escape, and they told us it’s something they look at constantly.
“There are always things you can do within a system to improve it, and it’s not just at times when you have somebody who does the unpredictable and walks off that you look at anything that could help to refine the system and make it less likely; but, again, it’s still going to be unpredictable," Young said.
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