Bailey joined the Birmingham Police Department in 1946 as a bicycle patrolman. He was promoted to detective in 1953. He resigned in 1962 to run for Sheriff. When he took office, the department had 77 employees and an annual budget of $735,000.
Bailey was sheriff during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham and was considered an effective law officer though he was significantly more moderate on race issues than contemporaries like Bull Connor and Al Lingo, who mounted a profoundly unsuccessful campaign to unseat him in 1967. In later elections, Bailey earned significant support from black voters.
Bailey resigned in 1996 after suffering multiple strokes. At the time, his department had about 600 workers and a $28 million budget.
Bailey was inducted into the Alabama Peace Officers Hall of Fame in 1991. He died in 1997 and is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery. Jefferson County's Mel Bailey Criminal Justice Center in downtown Birmingham is named in his honor.
|Jefferson County Sheriff
- "Longtime Jefferson County sheriff Mel Bailey is dead at age 72." (August 30, 1997) Associated Press/Tuscaloosa News