By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
A five-member public safety task force made up of lawyers, former law enforcement and community leaders on Thursday released its first report with recommendations to “reform and reimagine” Birmingham police department policies and procedures.
The task force, formed in July during a heightened period of civil unrest that swept the country and also parts of downtown Birmingham, was given 90 days to provide a roadmap for ways the city can improve public safety.
Among the recommendations in the 86-page “Reform and Reimagine Birmingham Public Safety” report released during a virtual press conference from City Hall were:
- Publish all BPD Birmingham Police Department policies
- Update BPD website to reflect transparency, including accessible publications of BPD policies
- Hold regularly scheduled listening sessions and/or town halls to report back to the mayor, council, public safety task force and the general public on safety efforts.
- Regularly meet with constituents including Black Lives Matter, families of persons killed by police and other organizations; an outside facilitator should be present
- Public audit of all public safety and public health-related expenditures of the city
- Adopt and implement the domestic and sexual violence recommendations of One Place Metro Alabama Family Justice Center which provides coordinated, no-cost services to victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault through a multi-disciplinary team working together
- Establish early intervention systems to track unlawful officer behavior
“Our task force was serious about its job and in the end, recommended initiatives that address community engagement, better policy and better oversight as well as training and education and safety and wellness,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.
Birmingham City Councilor Hunter Williams, chair of the council’s public safety committee, said the report is not only thorough “but has the potential to address issues before they arise in our department. “. . . it is just as important now that our police department be an interwoven part of our community. We all know that our police will only be as strong as the community that rallies around it. I also think it’s very important that we continuously look at policies and procedures within the police department and every department within the city of Birmingham.”
Members of the task force included Jaselle Houghtlin, University of Alabama at Birmingham graduate and co-founder of the advocacy group, Listen; Cara McClure, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Birmingham; Victor Revill, attorney with Revill & Associates; Dr. Ed Watkins, retired Birmingham and New York City Police detective; and Joyce Vance, former U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Alabama.
At the press conference on Thursday, Woodfin also announced an Emergency Advocacy Team pilot program that will work to break the cycle of domestic violence.
“We’ve been able to review our aggravated assaults and what we’ve revealed is that 27 percent of aggravated assaults in the city of Birmingham involve domestic violence,” said the mayor.
Beginning Friday, December 18, social workers will partner with officers from the West Precinct to address misdemeanor domestic violence incidents.
Recommendations in the report also include putting together a City Council package that deals with Breonna’s Law, named after Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville police in March that bans the use of no-knock warrants. That law is aimed at regulating no-knock warrants or banning them completely.
Woodfin said he doesn’t expect reform to “happen in one day, one week or one month, it is an ongoing process . . . and the truth is, some may take longer than that, but we have a few items that are ongoing, being developed or can be implemented in the next month or so” and those include sharing BPD policies online, hosting quarterly meetings and listening sessions beginning the first quarter of 2021, he said.