New Law Keeps Emergency Personnel From Responding Into Lawrence County

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TRINITY, Ala. (WHNT) – One of the statewide amendments voted on November 6th went into effect today. Many of the people most affected likely don’t even know. Amendment 11 was designed to keep neighboring cities, outside of Lawrence County, from annexing land inside of Lawrence County. It turns out the side effects of the new law could put lives and property in danger. Police, fire, and emergency medical services say they can no longer cross the county line, a line some are calling the Great Wall of Lawrence County.

The Morgan County Town of Trinity borders Lawrence County and for many years the town’s police jurisdiction has extended about a mile and a half into Lawrence County. Until today. Amendment 11 is said to have been intended to deter municipalities like Decatur or Trinity, which are both in Morgan County, from annexing land in Lawrence County.

To demonstrate how complicated this issue is, we found a home right next to the county line. In fact, the homeowner has to pay taxes to both Morgan and Lawrence Counties. His yard is in Morgan County, so if his yard catches on fire, the Trinity Fire Department can come in and put it out, they’re just a mile or so down the road. But if his house catches fire, he has to call the Caddo Fire Department and they’re about 9-to-10 miles away. Thats because the house is on the Lawrence County side of the line, and even though you can almost see the Trinity Fire Department from there, they’re no longer allowed to cross the county line.

“I think people who live in that area need to be aware of what’s happened and they need to understand how it will impact them,” says Morgan County 911 Director Ryan Welty. He showed us a map depicting Decatur, Trinity and Morgan County’s coverage map and how it looked yesterday. A second map shows the new coverage area and how much of Lawrence County is no longer covered by the Morgan County-based services. It means several square miles and several hundred homes are now much farther away from help than they were the day before.

Trinity Police Chief Chris McLemore says 37% of the calls his department answers were to addresses in Lawrence County… and he worries about the people he’s come to know so well. “You come to know each and every one of these families and that’s kind of crucial in how you actually deal with certain problems that may go on in these areas,” he says.

But Chief McLemore says his hands are tied. So for now, 911 calls from those areas in Lawrence County will still be answered in Decatur. But the law now requires those dispatchers to forward the calls to officials in Lawrence County. 

WHNT News 19 has confirmed at least two homeowners, who live just inside Lawrence County, are working to have their property annexed into the Morgan County Town of Trinity. We understand that would eliminate at least part of the problem, allowing Trinity to once again extend their police jurisdiction up to a mail and a half beyond city limits. The Town of Trinity, by the way, has never received any funds from Lawrence County for the police and fire services they’ve provided to residents there.

The images below show the changes in coverage, with the first image showing emergency coverage prior to the new law going into effect. The second map image shows the new coverage area, and how it excludes Lawrence County. The images were provided by the Morgan County 911 Board.