Police to stop unlocking car doors
by David Atchison
Jan 09, 2014 | 1406 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PELL CITY – Municipal police officers will only open car doors in cases of emergencies for people who accidentally lock their keys inside their vehicles.

City Manager Patrick Draper said after Thursday’s work session that motorists will have to call a local locksmith to unlock their vehicles instead of police, starting Monday.

He said police respond to calls to open vehicle doors for five or six motorists who lock their keys inside their vehicle every day.

Draper said it not only takes officers away from their normal duties, but it also takes business away from local locksmiths.

“We don’t want to get crossways with our local businesses,” he told the council Thursday night.

The Pell City Police routinely respond to calls from people who have locked their keys inside their vehicles.

Councilman Jay Jenkins said the police are opening too many doors.

He said in a year’s time, police are opening the doors to about 1,725 vehicles.

“That’s a lot of business we’re cutting out (for our local merchants),” Jenkins said.

He said police departments in other cities do not open car doors for people who lock their keys inside their vehicles.

Jenkins said police should not open vehicle doors for motorists, only in emergency.

Councilman Terry Templin agreed, saying it is different if a child or animal is locked inside the vehicle and it’s 100 degrees outside.

Templin said he also worries about the liabilities involved with police trying to open a door on a new expensive vehicle.

“I think it’s a liability for the city, if you damage a vehicle,” said Councilwoman Sharon Thomas.

Mayor Joe Funderburg said a liability waiver form could be developed by the city, and police could have the motorist sign the waiver before attempting to open the vehicle door. That way, he said, if an officer accidentally damages a vehicle, the city is not held liable.

One officer who attended the council work session said he knew of at least three vehicle windows which were accidentally broken by officers attempting to open a door for stranded motorists.

Council President James McGowan and Councilwoman Dot Wood appeared to be in favor of continuing the service.

“We have people out there who may not want to pay $50-$60,” McGowan said.

He said there are other cities that have officers who assist motorists in this way.

“I think we need to continue it,” Wood said.

Draper said after the council meeting that it was a policy issue and the matter did not need a formal vote of the council.

He said he thought the consensus of the council was for police to only unlock doors to vehicles in emergency cases.

Draper said if residents voiced opposition to the policy change, it could be changed back.

He said the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department assists motorists by opening doors to vehicles when motorists lock their keys inside.

Thursday night there was only one locksmith business located inside Pell City that answered their phone, offering 24-hour emergency lockout services.

Contact David Atchison at datchison@dailyhome.com