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With Gunfire on Rise, Birmingham Cordons Off Streets in One Neighborhood

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Safe Streets is a strategic safety initiative that will limit the number of entry and exit points within a certain perimeter of homes, schools, and businesses as well as add several traffic calming measures at intersections and institute concerted blight removal efforts. (Adobe Stock)

Times staff report

An average of about six shots per day were fired, more than 2,000 shots total during 2023, in the East Lake neighborhood, Mayor Randall Woodfin told the Birmingham City Council on Tuesday.

Shotspotter, a gunshot detection that uses sensors to alert law enforcement of gunfire incidents in real time, recorded a total of 2,164 shots fired in the neighborhood, said the mayor.

“That’s unacceptable,” he told the council.

Woodfin recently announced the Safe Streets Initiative, a pilot plan to shut down street access to limit drivers coming into the East Lake neighborhood to shoot at houses and cars. According to the city the neighborhood is growing drug activity, prostitution and gunshots.

“We will continue our aggressive policing,” Woodfin said. “We’ll continue to focus on gun violence citywide.”

Woodfin stressed the focus is on just in the East Lake neighborhood, not the entire East Lake community that includes South East Lake, North East Lake and Wahouma.

But the emphasis on East Lake neighborhood is a step in the direction of reducing crime overall, he said. “I believe we can decrease gun violence in this neighborhood,” Woodfin said.

According to city officials, the goal is to cordon off streets in the neighborhood to reduce the number of points of ingress and egress in the neighborhood with the goal being to aid in the prevention of drive-by shootings and perpetrators evading
law enforcement due to the limited number of accessible streets.

On Monday, the city began positioning barriers in the streets. “It is not just about keeping crime out,” said the mayor. “In addition to decreasing crime, in addition to reducing the day walkers and prostitution, in addition to cleaning up the alleys,
drying out the trap houses and dope houses, we also want to seed in hope. These residents deserve to live in peace, to freely walk their sidewalks, and allow their children to go outside to play.”

Because of the many entry and exit points in the area, the neighborhood of senior citizens and young families have been vulnerable to perpetrators who can come in and commit crimes with multiple escapeways, according to city officials.

Installing traffic calming efforts such as speed bumps and signs are intended to deter speeding vehicles and drive-by shootings. Alleyways that allow perpetrators easy access into the back of homes will be secured. Abandoned properties that have been a breeding ground for criminal activities have been earmarked and will be aggressively addressed.

In preparation for the pilot safety program, more than 800 homes were visited as well as five churches and several businesses. There were 350 residents responding to a survey with nearly 90 percent of them supporting the effort. Woodfin presented the plan at East Lake neighborhood association meetings and also hosted a special town hall at New Rising Star Church.

While barriers were positioned in the streets and closures began on Monday temporary safety barriers will be placed in front of the painted ones for two weeks and in late July that the temporary safety barriers will be removed, and greenery added for beautification. In October the pilot program will be evaluated to determine next steps.

For more about Safe Streets, visit www.birminghamal.gov/safestreets.