A Hoover city councilman recently thanked state lawmakers for working to increase penalties for false police reporting following the staged kidnapping of Hoover's Carlee Russell, which gained national attention earlier this year.
State Reps. Mike Shaw (R-Hoover) and Leigh Hulsey (R-Helena) are drafting a bill to increase penalties for those who knowingly raise false alarms. Sen. April Weaver (R-Brierfield) is working on a similar bill for the Senate.
Russell faked her own kidnapping in July before showing up at her parents' door days later. Members of the community and law enforcement spent countless hours and resources looking for her. She later admitted to lying about her disappearance and was found guilty earlier this month despite pleading not guilty.
The Hoover City Council passed a resolution in August urging the Alabama Legislature to increase penalties for false reporting due to the incident. Such changes had the support of Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis.
Hoover councilman Steve McClinton told 1819 News on Monday he and his fellow councilmen were shocked to find out how lenient the consequences were for false reporting in Alabama.
"I know myself and the mayor and other council members talked to [Shaw] about that, so to make it have a law to have more consequences for folks to persuade them from doing that kind of behavior in the future is a good thing," McClinton said. "... I wonder what was the cost for the City of Hoover to spend all that time and resources, all those people volunteering looking for someone who wasn't even kidnapped."
Shaw also spoke to 1819 News and said that though he and Hulsey are not finished drafting the legislation, they are working with law enforcement, including Derzis, and intend to make false reporting a felony under Alabama law.
"A lot of it's driven by what law enforcement experienced," Shaw explained. "I was on City Council in Hoover for six years, so I got to know the Hoover Police Department very very well, and Hoover's committed to public safety. I think Chief Derzis is the best of the best, and he's had a lot of input on the process and the [attorney general's] office as well. A lot of different perspectives will go into it to make sure it's done right."
However, Shaw said he wants to ensure that the bill, if passed, does not prevent people from reporting actual crimes.
"We all have loved ones that if something ever happened to them and we called the public for help, we'd want people to respond," he explained. "And right now, I'm a little concerned some people might think twice because they were kind of hoodwinked. We have a great community that wants to help in those situations, and we saw that. People came out to help search and everything … That shows how great our community is."
"It's an unfortunate situation," he continued. "The part that bothers me the most is the best of society in our community came out … That was abused, and there should be consequences for that."
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.