Neighborhood leaders offer advice for city’s top cop

By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

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Get to know the neighborhoods and the people who live there. Attend community meetings. Most of all, find ways to reduce crime. Those are among the suggestions neighborhood association leaders have for new Birmingham Police Department (BPD) Chief Patrick Smith, who officially started on Monday, June 25.

The Birmingham Times conducted a series of interviews with neighborhood presidents and asked them what advice they have for the new chief, who comes to Birmingham with 28 years of law-enforcement experience with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). He worked his way up through the ranks, starting as a patrol officer, then becoming a police field-training officer and instructor, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. Most recently, since 2015, he served as a police commander.

Gerri Robinson, president of the Fairview Neighborhood Association, said Birmingham needs someone with “the ability to lead, [someone] who is accessible and responsible and shows a caring and compassionate attitude toward everyone.”

She added, “I would ask him to please have an open mind and pay attention to details. [Also], be ready to think on your feet because oftentimes one person acts and then someone else reacts. Do what is necessary and try not to come across as over-enforcing because that can be a problem. But, most importantly, I would like him to look at the impact on both the victim’s family and the other family.”

Birmingham has 99 neighborhoods and 23 communities, and Veronica Edwards-Johnson, president of the Powderly Neighborhood Association, believes the chief should make himself known among residents.

“We need more police visibility and more police and neighborhood interaction,” she said. “Get to know the neighborhoods and the people in those neighborhoods. Meet the grass-roots people. Come to the block-watch and neighborhood meetings. Become familiar with the people who are familiar with living in those communities.”

Aaisha Muhammad, president of the East Lake Neighborhood Association, said Smith would be welcome at their meetings.

“We really appreciate our police officers here in East Lake,” she said. “Our police officers come to our neighborhood meetings. They are present if you call them, and they’ll be here, so we just want that same relationship with the new chief of police. We would love to have a meeting with him and the other neighborhood presidents, but we would just like to get more acquainted with him and make him feel comfortable.”

Prude Fuller, president of the Airport Highlands Neighborhood Association, and Danny Robinson, president of the Hooper City Neighborhood Association, both pointed to crime and drugs as ills that need attention.

“I love the city, but I would like for there to be better police protection when stuff goes on,” said Fuller. “I think that’s very important because there’s too much crime … in the city in general.”

Danny Robinson said, “I would tell [Smith] to keep drug activity to a minimum if not [get it] completely out.

Lillie Cole, president of the Kingston Neighborhood Association, and Elois Ramsey, president of the Zion City Neighborhood Association, both said they would like Smith, as well as officers, to serve as role models for Birmingham’s youth.

“Our younger generation fears the police,” said Cole. “They have not been taught that the police officer is a friend, somebody you can call when you’re in need. They see the police and fear them. Once they can get that fear out of them, the police can be like big brothers or sisters. I think a lot of teaching and training [is needed]. If young people get to see these faces more often, it will make a difference, especially in my neighborhood.”

Ramsey said, “I think he should become what you might call ‘police friendly.’ Many times, people feel [the police are the enemy] because of so many things they’ve heard and seen, but I believe that being ‘police friendly’ and letting people know [law enforcement is] genuinely concerned about them and their well-being is the first step.”

Brenda Pettaway, president of the Woodlawn Neighborhood Association, said residents can help play a role in reducing crime.

“To address crime in the city and in the neighborhoods, [Smith] needs to connect with neighborhood leaders and find the problems they have that are leading up to crime and what can be done to prevent it,” she said. “But the people have to help and look out for each other, as well.”

Ramsey agreed: “We all have a duty as citizens to try to make it work. It has to work among all of us.”

To read what advice the Birmingham City Council had to give Chief Patrick Smith, click here.