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Chief Patrick D. Smith On His Force’s Newest Crime Fighting Tool

Birmingham Police Chief Patrick D. Smith inside the Real Time Crime Center on fourth floor of the downtown police headquarters. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)
By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

The Birmingham Times recently sat down with Police Chief Patrick D. Smith to talk about his department’s Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) which was unveiled on Oct. 19.

The RTCC is a conversion of part of the fourth floor of BPD headquarters to allow for real-time monitoring of various technology around the city by BPD officers.

The center will operate 19 hours a day with anywhere from five to eight officers staffing the center during each shift. Still currently under construction, the RTCC will monitor a variety of information sources that cover immediate activity in the city and have space for other crime analysis, including forensics.

In a 15-minute conversation, Smith spoke about the RTCC’s implications for fighting crime in Birmingham.

The Birmingham Times: How would you describe the Real Time Crime Center?

Chief Patrick D. Smith: “The Real Time Crime Center is about getting real time information out to our officers as they police the city. The whole idea here is to make sure that we have access to surrounding cameras within the community, so that when you have our 911 dispatch a call to our officers in the field, the Real Time Crime Center is the center-bridge between the two of them. When that information goes out, the address, the type of crime, the seriousness, any information they have, they will start to search for the closest cameras to that area, in hopes of gaining more information to give to our officers before they arrive on the scene. Also, if it’s something that is recorded, we can download it and provide it to the investigators as well as the officers who are on the scene before they get there or after something has occurred.”

BT: Where does this technology put Birmingham in comparison to police departments in other cities?

PS: “This is a huge leap forward in terms of integrating technology, making sure that we have all we need to investigate crime. I don’t want to put us on a scale of trying to compare us with other agencies, but what I’ll tell you is, it’s a huge step forward in terms of policing the city, integration of technology and moving things forward for future upgrades, to keep us on track.”

BT: How does this compare to the Metro-Area-Crime-Center (MACC) at the sheriff’s department?

PS: “This is something completely different from a MACC which is more of a fusion center of a number of law enforcement agencies who investigate crime and go through things after something has occurred. They do have access to some of the same cameras that we do, but the main thing for us, is about officer safety. It’s about providing additional information; it’s about being able to set things up immediately. Let’s just say that, if a ‘Cupcake’ [McKinney, the 3-year-old girl kidnapped and murdered in the Tom Brown Village housing project in the Avondale neighborhood] incident that occurred years ago happened today, we would be able to set up a full command post here. Here, we’d be able to have meetings. Here, we’d be able to pull up on the screen, the same information that’s out here for our meeting so that we have full access to what’s going on. We have real time, situational awareness to whatever the emergency is in the city. And I think that, to me, is the best way to go to make sure that we have everything that we need for whatever circumstances arise.”

BT: Even with your center what are some of the challenges you face?

PS: “The number one hindrance is you live in a culture now to whereas you have this no snitch rule that goes on in a large segment of society. And so that being said, we’ve got to switch to a more evidence-based policing to make sure that . . . we can physically show what happened, we have video of the incident, where they were, the things that that occurred, so you can go back. And now you have real full-scale evidence of what exactly happened.”

BT: Can citizens expect this center to reduce crime?

PS: “This is still just one tool. Okay. Everything that we’ve done has been adding one tool, the next tool, the next tool, to the toolbox of what we had. We’re going to be adding Cyber Crimes Unit forensics. We started by changing the work hours, adding up the robbery, homicide, so that we’re addressing the full scale spectrum of violent crime . . . this is just another full-scale tool and method of investigating that we hope will improve the services that we provide here in the city, and we hope will improve just overall quality of life.”

BT: Is the center a work in progress?

PS: “We have a training room down on the third floor. And so officers have been training with all of the systems for about, I would say, three, four months now. Learning the systems, learning the training, the technology, learning what works, what didn’t work, but also taking a look at our gaps. Okay, ‘what do we need to add? What additional equipment do we need? What checked technology do we need?’ And not only do we do that, I sent them to other crime centers. ‘Okay, what works? What doesn’t work? And what do we need to add to our systems and systems to make it better?’

“We’ve built this center. We’ve got to fund it, we’ve got to make sure that we have the latest technology. We have to thoroughly invest in public safety. If we want to see change in this city, we have to invest in in public safety, invest in this police department to make things happen.”

BT: What does the center and you say to the citizens of Birmingham?

PS: “We’re working hard for them every day. It’s our goal to improve the services that we provide, and to make sure that Birmingham stays where we need to be in terms of technology, fighting crime and implementing new measures that are necessary to make a difference.”

Anyone with information on shootings or violence in their community is encouraged to call 911 or Crime Stoppers at 205-254-7777.


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