Birmingham Police Department
The Birmingham Police Department is the department responsible for law enforcement, security and crime prevention in the city of Birmingham. The chief of police is Patrick Smith. The department is headquartered at the Birmingham Police Department Central Headquarters at 1701 1st Avenue North.
When Birmingham's first city government took office in 1871 under Mayor Robert Henley, he appointed a City Marshal, O. D. Williams, to direct the efforts of two patrolmen, Robert Bailey and Henry Clay Atkins. Henley made himself available to assist with patrols if needed before he was forced to resign due to tuberculosis.
The second administration, under James Powell, took office on January 6, 1873 and installed W. G. Oliver as Marshal. He initially commanding a force of three patrolmen, Ed Taylor, Robert Bailey and A. Robinson, but the young department was expanded with ten new recruits over the course of that year. Those included W. L. Cantelou, Jule Wright, James Armstrong, William Harris, J. D. Lykes, M. Hagerty, William Clay, J. L. Ellison, W. W. Coxe and John Coxe. That force held strong for the next year, but was reduced back to five men, headed by E. G. Taylor, during William Morris' second administration in 1876. Under Thomas Jeffers's administration, it was reduced back to three, with Ben Plosser commanding William Seay and John B. Lewis. Plosser was succeeded by L. M. Teal in 1878.
Mayor A. O. Lane elevated the city government beginning in 1882. He brought W. G. Oliver back as Marshal and also appointed John Thompson to serve as Captain of Police, commanding officers G. W. Merritt, J. A. Brock, J. A. Mingea, W. S. Nelson, J. S. Barksdale, C. K. Dickey, G. J. Tomlin and T. P. Hagood. The annual payroll for the department was $540 in 1882. A new set of uniforms was required to be worn while on duty.
In 1884 Frank Gafford and O. A. Pickard succeeded Oliver and Thompson as Marshal and Captain, respectively. Gafford oversaw the organization of the city's first professional Fire Department in 1885. J. H. Mingea, J. G. Smith, William Burwell, J. B. Donelson, H. U. McKinney, T. J. Boggan, A. H. Maynor and James McGee were sworn in as new officers that term. The department's payroll for 1886 had risen to $970.
For Lane's third term, Pickard was elevated to City Marshal. Newly-sworn officers included J. D. Anderson, Charles Martin, J. M. Nix, W. M. Turner, W. J. Carlisle, A. L. Sexton, R. M. Saunders, W. H. Pinkerton, T. Z. Hagood, Richard Smoot Jr, James Turner, B. R. Childers, Thomas Hart, J. S. Oldham, O. M. Hill, R. H. McCullum and James Hillary. The city's expense for the salaries and operation of the department in 1887 reached $12,500.
The first Birmingham Police officers to lose their lives in the line of duty were George Kirkley and J. W. Adams, who were killed in a shootout following the robbery of the Standard Oil offices on March 27, 1900.
During his terms as Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety, Bull Connor assumed direct control over the Police Department and engaged personally in police work, especially with regard to enforcing the city's segregation ordinances. Connor personally interrupted the 1938 Southern Conference for Human Welfare meeting at Municipal Auditorium to separate attendees by race. His seating arrangement was famously defied by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Connor's eager intervention sometimes earned resentment from officials within the department. One particular conflict, with Detective Henry Darnell, was set off in 1951 when Connor's wife Beara witnessed an act which she considered to be brutality. Connor investigated and charged Darnell with conduct unbecoming an officer. That December Connor was found unlawfully occupying a room at the Tutwiler Hotel with his secretary. Connor claimed to have been set up, but his conviction cost him his office for four years. He was re-elected in 1956.
After being re-elected, Connor resumed his belligerence and reinforced the department's reputation for protecting violent segregationists while oppressing black citizens. He is known to have arranged for police to give 15 minutes of free rein to a mob of vigilantes who awaited arrival of the Freedom Rides buses into Birmingham on Mothers' Day 1961. He met another bus two days later and escorted the demonstrators personally to the Tennessee state line. He also oversaw the purchase and use of two armored "riot cars" which the department employed to intimidate residents.
Connor's bigotry and stubbornness came to be seen as an opportunity by leaders of the Civil Rights movement who, as Martin Luther King Jr expressed it, sought to create a "crisis of conscience" at a national level by exposing the violence inherent to segregation. The spectacle of police dogs and fire hoses being unleashed against children at the climax of the Birmingham Campaign did serve to galvanize political support for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other major changes. Locally a growing group of young professionals organized a campaign to change Birmingham's form of government specifically as a way of removing Connor from power.
The department swore in its first African-American officer, Leroy Stover, in 1966. Entering the 1970s, though, as white flight changed the city's demographics from majority white to majority black, the Birmingham Police Department remained almost entirely white. A pattern of police brutality was taken up as a signature issue for Birmingham City Council hopeful Richard Arrington. The police shooting of Bonita Carter shortly before the 1979 mayoral election drove a wedge between incumbent David Vann, who supported the officer, and Arrington. The issue helped propel Arrington into office as the city's first black mayor.
Arrington brought in former Brooklyn precinct captain Arthur Deutsch as an outside hire to oversee updates to professional training and operations. The department won its first national accreditation under Deutsch, but the chief's tenure ended bitterly amidst accusations of misconduct and assault.
In his 2008 State of the City address Mayor Larry Langford pledged to put 50 additional officers on the streets. Since taking office he also supported pay raises for officers and gotten City Council approval for technology purchases; specifically for 3-wheel personal vehicles and for surveillance cameras in high-crime areas.
The January 2008 beating of Anthony Warren while he was unconscious led to the firing of five officers after commanders were notified, and a video of the incident was released to the public more than a year later. Chief A. C. Roper said that the video showed that, "there was a failure in policy, personnel, training, procedures and supervision." Those officers were reinstated with back pay by the Jefferson County Personnel Board in April 2011. The board explained that the city's attorney, Michael Choy, had not offered any evidence supporting the termination of the officers during a day-long hearing. Warren, who was convicted of attempted murder for trying to run over a Hoover Police officer during the same chase, sued the city for $1.4 million and won a $460,000 judgment in 2014.
On March 30, 2011 a video recording of an arrest was released which many perceived as documenting excessive force. In April of the same year, John White was shot to death by an officer responding to a domestic disturbance in Bush Hills. Those incidents, coming at a time of increased nationwide concern about police accountability, led City Council representative Carole Smitherman to suggest holding hearings with the goal of establishing a police oversight committee. Activist Frank Matthews and Anthony Johnson of the Birmingham NAACP also called for such a committee. Council president Roderick Royal argued that no steps should be taken without consulting with the department first. Chief A. C. Roper did not support creating an oversight board, but instead favored better public relations efforts from within the department, starting with a commitment to professionalism in every interaction.
In 2014 the department replaced its fleet of 2009 Ford Crown Victoria police cruisers with 59 new Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles.
In June 2015 Birmingham police precinct and task force officers began wearing body cameras. The first 319 units were supplied by TASER International, along with 5 terabytes of storage at its Evidence.com website, at a cost of $889,000 over five years. Within two months of the introduction of cameras, there was a 34 percent drop in the number of "use of force" incidents, and a 70 percent drop in the number of citizen complaints regarding the use of force.
On August 7, 2015 Birmingham police detective Johnny Brooks was pistol-whipped by a suspect, Janard Cunningham, who grabbed his gun at a traffic stop. Cell phone video of the aftermath of the beating was shared on social media with a gloating tone. The incident bolstered the perception of fear, mistrust and malevolence between the department and the wider community. In recounting the circumstances to the press, Brooks, who is white, said that he passed up the chance to use force against the suspect who he said was approaching his car in a threatening manner out of an abundance of caution, and cited the national headlines alleging a pervasive pattern of racist policing. "A lot of officers are being too cautious because of what's going on in the media," he told CNN.
Policing became a primary issue across the United States as the list of black people killed in custody continued to grow and video, shot by bystanders or captured on officers' body-worn cameras, showed clearly that police accounts of their use of force were often deceitful. Nationwide protests following the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida; Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York; and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri fueled the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May 2020 set off a major wave of protests during which emerged a goal of "defunding" police, or moving public resources away from armed responses to crime, and toward social and economic crime reduction programs. In Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and Chief Patrick Smith promised to review department policies, specifically with regard to Campaign Zero's "#8CANTWAIT" recommendations for reducing direct harm caused by police. On July 14 Woodfin immediately adopted a ban on chokeholds and a requirement that other officers intervene and report incidents of excessive violence. Other policy changes were recommended for further evaluation by a Birmingham Public Safety Task Force which was created for the purpose. Their recommendations, published in December 2020, included creating a Citizens' Review Board, expanding the role of social workers in domestic violence calls, making police procedures more transparent, and holding quarterly roundtables with advocacy groups.
In 2008 the Birmingham Police Department had 789 sworn officers (653 male and 136 female) and 296 civilian staff (75 male and 221 female).
In 2020 the department, which had grown to 912 sworn officers and 325 professional staff, operated on a budget of $92.78 million, or approximately $443 per resident of the city.
The Birmingham Police Department is divided into several divisions, each headed by a deputy chief.
The Administrative division, headed by Assistant Chief Darnell Davenport, handles internal operations and oversees the department's Technology & Research Unit, Training Section, Budget Unit, Grants Office, Inspections Unit, and Accreditation Division, with responsibility for personnel, payroll and hiring.
The Technology & Research Unit supports the department with evaluation and implementation of improved policing methods and technologies. It serves as a liaison to the Alabama Criminal Justice Information System and the Metro Area Crime Center. In 2021 it began operating the department's own Birmingham Police Real Time Crime Center.
The Training Section oversees the operations of the Birmingham Police Academy, the Birmingham Police Firing Range, the Career Development Unit, and the Birmingham Citizens Police Academy education program.
The Inspections Unit manages all police facilities, equipment, weapons and uniforms, and also managed the department's public information desk and taxi cab licensing.
The Detectives Bureau, led by Herman Hinton investigates crimes and prepares cases for prosecution. The division is divided into units specializing in auto theft, burglary, white-collar crime, family services (juvenile misdemeanors, missing persons, animal cruelty and gang activity), robbery, and homicide (homicide, felony assault, attempted murder, police-involved shootings, felony firearms discharge and kidnapping). Detectives also participate in "Project ICE", a multi-departmental task force which investigates federal firearms violations.
The department is the only one in the state to operate its own firearms examiners unit which matches ballistic evidence against a national database of firearms signatures. A "Crime Reduction Team", a task force of specially-picked officers, assists the detectives bureau in tracking fugitives and suppressing crime in especially violent neighborhoods.
The Patrol Division oversees regular patrols conducted out of Birmingham's four precincts. Deputy Chief Ron Sellers heads the division.
- Birmingham Police Department North Precinct, headquartered at 2600 31st Avenue North in North Birmingham. Captain Michelle Pruitt commands the precinct.
- Birmingham Police Department South Precinct is headquartered at 1320 19th Street South in Five Points South. The precinct is commanded by Captain Harry Greenberg.
- Birmingham Police Department East Precinct is headquartered at 600 Red Lane Road in Roebuck. Captain Julie Quigley-Vining is commander of the precinct.
- Birmingham Police Department West Precinct is headquartered at 616 19th Street in Ensley, and patrols a 65 square mile area with 80,000 residents. The precinct is commanded by Captain Anja Doyle.
The Department has, at various times, operated from small substations located in areas where an increased police presence was desired. These have included the Studio Arts Building at Five Points South, the Crestwood Festival Center, and the Uptown entertainment district at the BJCC.
The department's tactical division is comprised of the city's highway patrol, motor scouts, canine unit and bomb unit. The Birmingham Police Mounted Patrol was part of the tactical division before it was disbanded in 2020.
A separate division of the department investigates drug and vice activity. The unit is comprised of specialized teams which specialize in highway interdiction, drug houses, and long-term investigations into drug operations. The vice team investigates illegal alcohol and tobacco sales, gambling, prostitution, counterfeit merchandise, business license violations and complaints involving bars and clubs.
Officers in the narcotics unit participate in several federal task forces, including the Weed and Seed Task Force, which focuses on restoring neighborhoods through targeted enforcement and community participation.
SRT K9 Unit
The department maintains a Special Response Team Canine (SRT K9) unit with 13 teams of trained police dogs and handlers. The dogs are trained at the Alabama Canine Law Enforcement Officer's Training Center in Tuscaloosa County. The unit is supervised by Sergeant Heath Boackle.
- List of Birmingham Police Department operations
- List of Birmingham police chiefs
- List of Birmingham Police officers killed on duty
- Birmingham Civilian Review Board
- List of deadly police encounters
- Dubose, John Witherspoon (1887) Jefferson County and Birmingham, Alabama: Historical and Biographical Birmingham: Teeple & Smith, Publishers; Caldwell Printing Works.
- Robinson, Carol (September 8, 2007) "Local firearms unit proves its mettle in solving gun crimes." The Birmingham News
- Robinson, Carol (February 9, 2008) "Police Chief Roper names top commanders, unveils plan for improving the Birmingham department." The Birmingham News
- Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center Crime in Alabama 2008
- Robinson, Carol (May 14, 2009) "Birmingham special police unit stalks criminals, trouble spots." The Birmingham News
- Robinson, Carol (May 20, 2009) "Birmingham police beating video: Five officers fired." The Birmingham News
- Robinson, Carol (April 13, 2011) "Jefferson County Personnel Board reinstates Birmingham police officers fired after release of videotaped chase, beating." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph (May 25, 2011) "Birmingham leaders scrutinize Police Department, consider review board." The Birmingham News
- Robinson, Carol (August 8, 2015) "Man charged in Birmingham detective's beating; outrage follows support of attack on social media." The Birmingham News
- Valencia, Nick (August 14, 2015) "Pistol-whipped detective says he didn't shoot attacker because of headlines" CNN.com
- Robinson, Carol (September 14, 2015) "Birmingham police body cameras bring drop in use of force, citizen complaints." The Birmingham News
- Robinson, Carol (June 10, 2019) "Veteran lawmen named new commanders at 3 of Birmingham’s police precincts." The Birmingham News
- Robinson, Carol (September 6, 2019) "Beat by beat, street by street, Birmingham police use algorithms to fight crime in age of analytics." The Birmingham News
- Wright, Barnett (June 10, 2020) "More funding for police department, not less, says Birmingham (Ala.) chief" The Birmingham Times
- Robinson, Carol (June 10, 2020) "Birmingham police will take look inward, but say their training, tactics already strong." The Birmingham News
- Sims, Bob (July 14, 2020) "Birmingham mayor bans chokeholds, gives initial results of police review." The Birmingham News
- Robinson, Carol (December 10, 2020) "Randall Woodfin: No defunding Birmingham police but more accountability, training coming." The Birmingham News