By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
After one city councilor called for the National Guard to come to Birmingham to help curb crime and after two children were shot at Harris Homes earlier this week, Mayor Randall Woodfin and Chief Patrick Smith said the Birmingham police department is well equipped to address the violence.
“Public safety has and continues to be a priority in our neighborhoods, for this administration, for our city,” said Woodfin. “The Birmingham Police Department under the direction of Chief Patrick Smith has been making tangible efforts to keep our streets safer.”
Smith also responded forcefully to Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt who suggested this week that the city should call in the National Guard to deal with crime. Hoyt’s comments came after a violent weekend left five people dead and less than 24 hours after a homicide took place in Belview Heights in the district Hoyt represents.
“For the past few days, there has been some talk as if the Birmingham Police Department requires the assistance of the National Guard to address crime, as your chief of police I want to assure you that’s simply not the case,” said Smith. “I stand committed to the residents of this city in making a difference in what we do, to make a difference in all of our communities.”
The mayor and police chief met with the media shortly after a public safety meeting at Harris Homes in east Birmingham where two teen boys were shot by a 12-year old girl earlier this week. That investigation is ongoing.
“We just had two children who were injured in a useless, almost tragic incident,” the police chief said. “Over the past year, we’ve had incidents where children in our communities have been shot and even killed from negligent gun ownership. I can’t impress upon you enough the importance of using gun locks, safes, and keeping kids safe and protected from hand guns. It’s essential to safe community, to the Birmingham Police Department and it helps us in our crime fighting goals in this city.”
Smith said the department will begin issuing medical trauma kits in every police patrol car to ensure that when officers arrive on scene, they are able to help citizens.
“We are going to make sure that preservation of life is at the top of our list whenever feasible, our officers can render aid as necessary, even just safety measures of placing pressure dressings on a wound, making sure that we’re doing everything that we can as law enforcement to make sure that the community is safe and protected on both sides,” he said.
What’s Being Done
During the press conference with the media at Birmingham police headquarters downtown, Smith reiterated a number of points he’s made previously about his department’s steps to curb violence.
“I want to place officers on the streets of Birmingham who care, care about our city, its history and culture and care about the residents who make up the city, and make sure that each of them stand committed to their job and the goals of crime reduction within the city,” he said.
Smith said the department has worked to train and bring in more officers as the department was down 141 officers when he first became chief a year ago. Since that time, the department has had a net gain of about 80 officers and will graduate 31 more officers next month as well as start a class of 47.
He also said, since the first of the year, the Birmingham Police Department has removed more than 1,100 firearms from the streets.
“There is no way for us to quantify the lives saved or the amount of crime we’ve prevented in this city with all of the weapons we’ve taken off of the streets and that are displayed here today,” said Smith. “This police department is working for this city and we’re going to do everything that we can to resolve every single incident and crime and this is only a small representative of what we’re doing for this city.”
Since become chief, Smith said the department has not only added officers, but has changed their shifts to accommodate crime trends as well as implementing new technology.
Mayor Woodfin and his administration have also implemented initiatives and campaigns to make the city safer and to stop the violence. The city’s “Peace in the Park”, a series of summer-long activities to reduce crime and broaden relations between public safety officials and young adults, kicked off last Friday.
Earlier this year, the mayor unveiled the City of Birmingham’s PEACE Campaign to counteract violent crime. The campaign is a coordinated effort between city, community and law enforcement to achieve change on multiple fronts.
“We believe these initiatives are working,” said Woodfin. “Crime has been at a steady higher pace over the last five years, that’s not necessarily something you can solve overnight or solve in 18 months. Today is the first day of summer and we know not just in Birmingham but across the United States in urban cohorts, unfortunately we see an increase in violence in cities. We’re doing everything we can to address. We spoke to enforcement as it relates to our officers on the streets, increase officers hours on the streets, more technology as it relates to supporting officers in the streets and more neighborhood watch plans and visibility.”
The city and the police work together to prevent crime, but everyone must play their part, the mayor said.
“The chief and I have discussed ways to keep everyone informed about what is being done, particularly to reduce violent crime, this begins with a monthly stats and facts initiative where we break down the numbers and activities taken to reduce violent crime,” said Woodfin.
Starting July 1, the city will post public safety updates to www.birminghamal.gov/facts. There, visitors will find data on various crime stats and public safety initiatives.