By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
When Henry Irby left the Birmingham police department nearly four years ago, he didn’t sound like he had intentions of staying in retirement forever.
“I’m a people person and I enjoy loving on people and making sure they’re taken care of,” he said at the time. “I’m definitely going to miss the people I have worked with over the years.”
Well, he’s back. Irby, a 32-year veteran of the Birmingham Police Department and a graduate of A.H. Parker High School in Birmingham’s Smithfield community, will lead the embattled police in Brookside, Alabama, following local and national outcry at the town’s history of policing for profit.
Irby, who retired in 2018, said he “saw a great challenge” when contacted by Brookside Mayor Mike Bryan. “But where there’s great challenge, there is also opportunity,” Irby said at a Friday press conference announcing his position as interim chief.
Irby comes to the job with a lot of experience and “a lot of work to do,” he said. He has just four remaining officers out of a force that used to have up to 14 and those still on patrol will need to be vetted, Irby said.
“As long as [the officers] are committed to this process of creating healthy policing, I am committed to supporting them. Priority number one is to look at the rules and regulations and ensuring that officers are following them,” he said.
Improving the relationship between police and residents of the town is critical, the interim chief said, who added his entire career has been “dedicated to building the trust that is needed between residents and the police who are charged with their safety.”
“We can get policing right here [in Brookside], but we need to do it with the community…our goal is to have a Brookside police department that treats everyone with dignity and respect, so moving forward…we will be engaging the community, all of its stakeholders and ensuring that we listen to them and have them to work with us, partnering with us, to create a better community and a better police department,” Irby said.
Service to Birmingham
After graduating from Parker High School, Irby earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee. In 2007, he also graduated from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia and previously served as president of the Alabama chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement (NOBLE).
Irby first joined BPD in 1985, when he performed numerous jobs for the department, including patrol, training and support services.
From 1987 to 1990, he served Birmingham’s West Precinct, policing Ensley, Roosevelt City and Wylam. In 1990, Irby moved to the police academy and training range, where he became assistant range master in 1992. In 1994, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant before becoming lieutenant in 1998, the same year he moved to the records division of BPD.
After three years of working in the records unit and training other officers in the area, Irby became public information officer for the department, a duty he performed for eight years.
In 2009, Irby was promoted again to the title of captain and also took over as the West Precinct commander until 2010, when he took over the same position for the North Precinct.
In 2011, Irby became executive assistant to then-Chief A.C. Roper until 2013, when Irby was made deputy chief of the investigative operations bureau and oversaw a variety of departments including narcotics and special victims. In 2017, Irby also became deputy chief of the administrative bureau, in addition to holding his post as deputy chief of investigative operations.
Irby was one of three in the running to become Birmingham police chief in 2018, alongside now-former chief Patrick Smith, who got the job. Shortly after Smith’s appointment, Irby retired.