In Hobson City, some locals express frustration that for too long, the perception has been the town is packed with criminals. That shootings there as are as common as fireflies on a summer night.
They’re tired of hearing it’s the first black municipality in Alabama, but now lost to history and steeped in crime.
Since dwindling revenues shuttered the town’s police department in 2007, the Calhoun County Sheriff's Department has responded to calls, but there’s been no regular police presence in town until just this month.
Mayor Alberta McCrory has described her hometown of 800 or so as the unintended victim of desegregation, when black business owners left for better opportunities, the tax base dried up and with it the money to pay for police protection.
And the perception to criminals was that the lack of police meant the town was theirs for the taking, McCrory said.
Calhoun County Sheriff’s Deputy Marcus Wood agrees with her. He said drug dealers from outlying areas filled the vacuum left when the patrol cars drove out of town six years ago.
Wood, in his eighth year with the sheriff’s department, said criminals often use Hobson City as an office, going home in nearby communities at the end of a workday.
“There are a lot of good people that live here in Hobson City,” Wood said. “But you’ve got a lot of bad people that don’t live in Hobson City but are relocating here.”
But Wood and fellow deputies are in the streets once again, stopping speeders and making their presence known.
The town is paying $1,500 a month for 40 hours of patrols each week from Calhoun County Sheriff’s deputies. The deputies volunteer for the overtime and work varied shifts to keep criminals on their toes.
Outside forces at work
“They think it’s just a free-for-all,” McCrory said. “That’s not to say that people in this community don’t commit crimes, but for the most part I hear repeatedly that it’s people from over here or over there.”
In the six years following the closing of the police department, there have been seven shootings in Hobson City, according to news archives. Of those, three of the individuals arrested in the shootings were from Anniston, one was from Hobson City, two shootings resulted in no arrests and it was unclear where the last person resided at the time of the incident.
There was just one shooting in Hobson City in the six years prior to 2007, according to those archives. A Hobson City man was arrested in that 2003 incident.
For longtime residents the influx of crime from outside has been terrifying, Wood explained.
“Many times the drug dealers will find ways to threaten people that live here and they’re actually scared to help,” Wood said.
More than one resident declined Friday to speak to a reporter about crime in their town, one saying “I don’t want any trouble” before asking to be left alone.
Wood hopes that will change as people once again see police regularly watching over them, people they can recognize and know care about their safety.
“I think that’s what individuals in the community have to understand, that we can’t do it by ourselves,” he said. “The first step to taking their community back is putting their foot down and helping law enforcement to take back their community.”
“They hear things in the streets all day long, and if they don’t step up and make that tip into the hotline, come into the sheriff’s office and give that information, it’s a lost cause,” he said.
Working Friday in the backyard of her carefully kept home on Martin Luther King Boulevard, Elizabeth Rowe said speeding has been a problem on her street for some time.
“They think this is I-20,” Rowe said, explaining that last summer a car lost control and crashed into her yard. “She hit my crepe myrtle, knocked it up out of the ground. I had an SUV in my yard and she went right into it.”
The new police presence down her street means drivers are beginning to slow down, she said. Deputies are already issuing traffic tickets.
But as for other types of crime, Rowe believes her town is often misunderstood. In her more than two decades living there she’s had one instance of an attempted burglary. She caught the person pushing against the door of her basement and was able to scare the person away.
Sandy McCallum, 27, spends her days helping customers at Ross Handy Mart, one of the town’s only three businesses. McCallum said deputies have stopped by her store and were friendly.
“They let me know they’ll be here if I need them,” she said.
McCallum has lived in Hobson City her whole life, and feels as Rowe does, that the perception of crime there does not match what she knows of her hometown. Sure, people sometimes cause trouble, but everyone from there knows trouble often starts with outsiders, she said.
“I’ve had people say all kinds of things,” said one of McCallum’s customers, Crystal Jones, speaking of negative comments about the town.
“I’m from here. Been here my whole life. Everyone is related to everybody.”
Jones said, like her, most adults in town are parents and don’t have time for anything but working and raising their children.
“That’s our job now that we’ve already grown,” she said, pointing to her son standing by her side. “No. I don’t feel any danger here. I feel at home.”
McCrory said the town would be glad to see the criminals leave for good, and that the residents who live there, those that make the place special, deserve as much.
“I think what has happened in Hobson City is that the people are just not comfortable with all of the outsiders,” McCrory said, and that has created real fear and anxiety in some residents.
“We want to arrest all of those fears, and we might not arrest all of them but we want to let people feel a whole lot safer,” McCrory said. “This is our way of saying we want to do something about it.”
Hobson City is not an anomaly, McCrory explained. She sees the same thing in other towns, the same shootings and drug deals, the same violence.
“Unfortunately that’s universal,” she said, but she has a message for those that choose to do wrong in the town she was born.
“This is not the place to do what you’ve been doing,” she said.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.