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Bell, mayors from state’s most populous cities meet to talk challenges

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Alabama mayors from left: Sandy Stimpson (Mobile), William Bell (Birmingham), Walter Maddox (Tuscaloosa) and Todd Strange (Montgomery) met in Birmingham on Monday to exchange ideas on how to improve and resolve issues in their cities. (Ariel Worthy, The Birmingham Times)

By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

Alabama mayors from left: Sandy Stimpson (Mobile), William Bell (Birmingham), Walter Maddox (Tuscaloosa) and Todd Strange (Montgomery) met in Birmingham on Monday to exchange ideas on how to improve and resolve issues in their cities. (Ariel Worthy, The Birmingham Times)
Alabama mayors from left: Sandy Stimpson (Mobile), William Bell (Birmingham), Walter Maddox (Tuscaloosa) and Todd Strange (Montgomery) met in Birmingham on Monday to exchange ideas on how to improve and resolve issues in their cities. (Ariel Worthy, The Birmingham Times)

Four mayors from some of Alabama’s most populous cities met this week to exchange ideas and talk issues facing their respective jurisdictions including community policing.

Mayors William Bell, of Birmingham; Sandy Stimpson, of Mobile; Todd Strange, of Montgomery and Walter Maddox, of Tuscaloosa met at the Westin in downtown Birmingham less than 24 hours after six people were shot and one killed in Birmingham’s Gate City neighborhood.

Bell said “community policing” was helpful in determining what happened.

“When I got on the scene residents were coming to me sharing information, not just to me but the police department, that aided in understanding who some of the perpetrators are,” the mayor said.

That would not have happened several years ago, he said.

Strange said community policing is not a program, but a mindset, and it has happened because of the trust formed between the citizens and law enforcement.

“[Citizens] are making sure that our police forces can walk and talk and meet citizens where they are, whether it’s the porch, the church, wherever, but it’s the attitude that has changed,” he said.

Still, cities face a number of challenges including recruiting new officers and training, Stimpson said.

“Turnover in the police departments is hugely driven by the circumstances in our society today,” Stimpson said. “You can retire after 20 years, some people are in 20 and out. It’s important that the new police we put in service are trained and in Mobile we’re putting as many as 40-50 policemen in every year.”

There are some issues the cities have to take on that are supposed to be handled on a state level, according to the mayors.

“Cities are having to fill a void where the state has been abdicating its responsibility, especially in terms of corrections, mental health — and you could even apply it beyond policing to transportation and other issues,” Maddox said. “Mayors are having to not only deal with these problems that are technically not our responsibility, but we’re having to create innovative solutions.”

Stimpson and Bell announced a pilot program with the State of Alabama Housing Finance Authority that helps blighted areas in the communities.

“[It] will give us some financial resources . . . if we are successful in that pilot program, it will extend to the other cities throughout the state of Alabama,” Bell said.