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Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin Bans Chokeholds by Police

By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

Mayor Randall Woodfin on Tuesday announced “an outright” ban on the use of chokeholds by Birmingham police.

“Currently the BPD (Birmingham Police Department) says that chokeholds are not authorized and are not part of the department’s training curriculum. While that is good, I want to go a step further and implement an outright ban on chokeholds in the city of Birmingham,” Woodfin said during a virtual press conference from City Hall.

The announcement comes just two months after the death of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, one month after civil unrest in Birmingham and weeks after Woodfin pledged to review safety standards of the BPD.

Woodfin also announced a new five-member Public Safety Task Force, which he will co-chair with Councilor Hunter Williams, chairman of the city’s Public Safety Committee, that will meet over the next 90 days to review areas the city can improve as it relates to public safety and “suggest a road map of where we can become stronger,” he said.

Members of the Task Force include:

  • Jaselle Houghtlin, a recent UAB graduate and co-founder of the advocacy group, Listen
  • Cara McClure, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Birmingham
  • Victor Revill, a Birmingham attorney with Revill and Associates
  • Ed Watkins, a former Birmingham Police detective
  • Joyce Vance, former U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Alabama

“This group of men and women will examine additional areas of improvement,” Woodfin said. “We’ve often heard the narrative that Birmingham’s Police Department is  not experiencing the problems other departments are experiencing nationally … however, as mayor, I know how important it is to make sure our department continues to build upon the foundation it already has, strengthening it not just for themselves, but for the betterment of the community they’re sworn to serve. This task force will ensure that happens.”

During a recent internal review Woodfin said the city’s Office of Peace and Policy found that the police department was already in alignment with most of the standards set by 8 Can’t Wait, a national advocacy group, but “there is room for improvement . . . we saw an immediate opportunity to strengthen our already strong policies pertaining to use of force.”

Woodfin said he wanted to add direct language to the city’s use of force policy “to establish ‘duty to intervene’ as a rule and regulation for BPD officers.”

According to 8 Can’t Wait, which advocates policy changes to police departments across the nation that need to be adopted following the death of Floyd, “duty to intervene” requires officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor. In other words, officers hold other officers accountable when something is not being done right.

A copy of Peace and Policy’s report on recommendations and review of 8 Can’t Wait may be found on www.peaceandpolicy.com.

In the coming weeks, forums will be available for the public to share their thoughts and opinions about public safety and learn more about various issues. To share ideas, residents are encouraged to send those to peace@birminghamal.gov.

In other business Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved a five-year, $7.5 million lease with Axon Enterprise Inc., for body-car-taser camera systems for the BPD.

The agreement will upgrade for the BPD’s body and dash camera systems.

“When someone is given a great amount of power and a great amount of authority, there is a lot expected from that person and so one thing the leadership of the City of Birmingham has been doing is that accountability piece,” Williams said. “We want to make sure that all of our officers have the tools that they need to do their job to the best of their ability and to do their job in a way that the residents, citizens and visitors expect them to do. We want to make sure our officers do have the latest technology when it comes to working cameras both on their vehicles and on their persons.”