Calera police debut new school program, youth vaping discussed at Calera city council

Published 2:40 pm Friday, November 10, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

CALERA – The Calera City Council discussed a new school resource officer (SRO) led school program and the growing issues surrounding youth vaping at a regularly scheduled city council meeting on Monday, Nov. 6.

The meeting, which also saw active discussion surrounding the potential funding of a feasibility study, began with the official unveiling of the Calera Police Department’s new student accountability program. Under the name of CASE, which stands for Calera Accountability and Success through Education, the program seeks to educate students on the dangers of a great number of behaviors and topics facing the youth of today.

“We want to come up with an intervention and prevention program for drugs, vaping (and) other activities (Calera schools) have had issues with, as have all schools in the county,” Calera Police Chief David Hyche said. “(This includes) sex-exhortation, sexting and all of the hot button topics and areas that are of such huge concern to parents, educators and all of us.”

A major position and objective of CASE is to curtail vaping and nicotine addiction among Calera’s youth. This objective includes the prevention of students using and possessing vaping products that can be currently purchased legally by adults, as well as products which have been altered and illegally tampered with on a secondary market.

“Other issues facing our schools that we plan to work on include illegal drug use, bullying, sexting and sex-exhortation,” Hyche said.

However, unlike with a good number of awareness programs, CASE is seeking to also drive change through the usage of an active arm of enforcement. As currently designed, SRO’s will issue tickets, in the amount of $50, to students caught vaping or with vaping materials and will be required to appear in front of Calera’s municipal court judge along with a parent or legal guardian.

There, the student will be provided the choice of paying the fine or attending a 10-week vape cessation course helmed by Calera’s SROs. SROs are already in the process of becoming certified to teach such courses through the American Lung Association, which is a nationally approved and selected curriculum.

This course will be included in a number of other lessons that will fall under the program’s banner, many of which the department hopes to bring to classes as preventatives and not just corrective actions.

“We plan to train and use our seven Calera school resource officers to present the students and parents material that is relevant to a variety of issues that are facing our youth and community.,” Hyche said. “All presentations will be approved by the principals of each Calera school or their designee and our hope is that this material will help the SROs form positive relationships with students and provide useful information to the students and parents. We’ve already begun the training.”

Hyche described the program as one that will remain under active development and able to evolve in reactions to issues and will intend to maintain training to SROs as each need arises.

Additionally, Hyche lauded the program’s unique use of SROs in the educator role, a designator that will allow for a continued presence and relationship with students that is simply not possible with similar programs that utilize singular individuals in a visiting role.

“Education is the utmost important thing for both the parents and the kids,” Hyche said. “I don’t think one person working part time in our schools is enough.”

Outside the schools, the CPD is also looking to enforce requirements already in place on gas stations and stores to prevent the wrongful display and sale of certain products that present risk to youth in Calera.

As of this moment, several sections of the program are underway with available department funds but budget numbers are rough and hard cost numbers on the program as proposed have not been settled upon. However, Chief Hyche insisted that such details and information will be forthcoming. Already, the CPD has identified multiple areas that can present potential funding routes for the program.

Hyche also gave credit to Calera’s Police Explorers program for serving in youth and community outreach.

“These are more opportunities for interaction,” Hyche said. “The more interaction and transparency that we have with what we do I think the better. If we don’t have the help of the parents, and the schools, and the school board, and the police and you guys all working together we’re not going to be able to accomplish anything. Everybody has got to be pulling in the same direction, if we do that, we can do great things.”

Prior to Hyche’s debut of CASE, the City Council had already brought the discussion of vaping to the forefront, as the topic dominated sections of the preceding work session.

At the forefront of this discussion was the announcement from Councilmember Debbie Byers of her intentions to pursue a moratorium, and potential further steps, on limiting new vape and smoke stores from coming into Calera. This measure, as she stated, would be intended as a method to cut down on instances of vaping materials making their way to, and being used by, underage teens in Calera.

“I think they are catering on promoting the vapes to the children and the students,” Byers said. “I was at the high school a couple of weeks ago and they confiscated what looked to be a teddy bear but what was actually a vape. We need to be responsible and possibly control what vape stores—smoke stores—are coming into Calera.”

According to Calera City Attorney Bill Justice, a moratorium on a legal business has to have a time limit and a stated purpose that relates to why the moratorium is being imposed. Such as a one being put in place until regulations can be drafted or until studies can be done on existing regulations in order for amendments to be made to municipal codes or law.

This clarification ended with Byers acknowledging an intent for her to investigate and produce such a purpose that will result in a moratorium.

“I don’t want our city to be known for advertising a vape or smoke shop with a big marijuana leaf on it,” Byers said. “I don’t want our city to be known for that. So, I personally will take this on as a challenge to come up with (steps similar) to what Pelham did and see how we can tailor it to our needs and do something to help Chief Hyche and our students.”

Byers sentiment against vaping was not a unique position and was shared by several other Council members.

Councilmember Turner took Byer’s sentiments even further and displayed a desire to make movements against the abilities of gas station owners to sell vape and smoke products in the city in order to prevent the sale of items to underage youth. Turner further voiced a wish that the law allowed the ticketing of students caught with these products allowed for them to be ticketed in the realm of $250, rather than the legally limited $50.

In other news the City Council also approved the following:

  • The leasing of one garbage truck through a buyback program to add to the city fleet.
  • The donation of a check in the amount of $500 to Owen House with funds received from a CivicPlus award
  • An official recognition of the retirement of Roy Hogg
  • Resolution No. 2023-38 for the Sewer Tap and Capital Recovery Fee Schedule.
  • Stonebriar Street Repairs – 5 Sections on Stonebriar Drive.
  • A bid award for Buxahatchee Sanitary Sewer System Rehabilitation Phase 3 InSite projects.
  • A bid award for Buxahatchee Sanitary Sewer System Rehabilitation Phase2 InSite projects.
  • An agreement for engineering services for a traffic light upgrade bid package proposal for Highway 25 and Highway 31 at 18th Avenue.
  • Setting of the Severe Weather Preparedness Tax Holiday for Feb. 23-25, 2024.