FLORENCE — Some misdemeanor arrests in Florence and throughout Lauderdale County soon could involve a court summons rather than taking the suspect into custody.

However, authorities stress, offenders still would face the same court process and potential penalties.

The move, which is a response to the coronavirus pandemic, is a way to protect officers and keep offenders of minor crimes from spending time in the closed quarters of a jail, authorities said.

This is among actions allowed through Gov. Kay Ivey's emergency declaration.

Florence Police Chief Ron Tyler said officials with various agencies, including his department, the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Office and the courts, are arranging a meeting on the matter before the non-custodial arrests go into effect.

"We want to make sure we are all on the same page," Tyler said. "The plan is for us to get together and review the governor's order and our resolutions."

Authorities said there is a chance this could become a permanent procedure, because it could keep from tying up officers, while saving time on administrative processes.

The Florence City Council and Lauderdale County Commission both approved resolutions allowing non-custodial arrests for misdemeanors.

There still would be custodial arrests for these offenses:

• Violent crime, including a threat of violence and domestic violence;

• Possession of alcohol or a controlled substance if police believe that person poses a risk to public safety;

• A crime involving a victim who is a minor;

• Driving under the influence; and

• A charge that would require restitution to the victim.

Through the proposed law, an officer would write a court summons to someone who is charged with a misdemeanor.

"That person still would appear before the court judge and have to answer for the crime, and the consequences would be the same," Tyler said. "The consequences in the courts don't change. It's just the method that gets to the courts.

"It's not decriminalizing anything," he said. "You're still going to be held responsible for your actions."

The chief said the change would continue until Ivey's order is lifted, but he envisions a time when this becomes a permanent procedure.

"It would be a very usable tool for our guys," Tyler said.

Lauderdale Sheriff Rick Singleton agrees that a permanent policy should be considered.

"The whole purpose of someone making bond is to make sure they come to court, and the vast majority do," Singleton said. "I don't think there would be any drastic changes in people coming to court if an arrest is non-custodial."

He said that would save time for deputies.

"Out in the county, if a deputy makes an arrest in Waterloo and takes the person to jail, books him and then goes back, that takes a lot of time," Singleton said.

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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