Birmingham Police Department

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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 A. C. Roper. The department is headquartered at the Birmingham Police Department Central Headquarters at 1701 1st Avenue North.

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.

In 2014 the department replaced its fleet of 2009 Ford Crown Victoria police cruisers with fifty-nine new Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles.


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.


As of 2008, the Birmingham Police Department had 789 sworn officers (653 male and 136 female) and 296 civilian staff (75 male and 221 female). The department is divided into several divisions, each headed by a deputy chief.

The department's first female officer, former meter maid Betty Jensen, was sworn in in 1959, with Ann Saunders joining a few months later.

Administrative division

The Administrative division, headed by Ray Tubbs handles internal operations and oversees the department's Technology Unit.

Detectives Bureau

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.

Patrol Division

The Patrol Division oversees regular patrols conducted out of Birmingham's four precincts. Mike Fisher headed the division as Deputy Chief until his retirement in August 2010. The City Council and Police Chief Roper announced in 2009 plans to build a new West Precinct behind the Five Points West Municipal Center.

North Precinct

The Birmingham Police Department North Precinct is headquartered at 2600 31st Avenue North in North Birmingham.

South Precinct

The Birmingham Police Department South Precinct is headquartered at 1320 19th Street South in Five Points South.

East Precinct

The Birmingham Police Department East Precinct is headquartered at 600 Red Lane Road in Roebuck.

West Precinct

The Birmingham Police Department West Precinct is headquartered at 616 19th Street in Ensley, and patrols a 65 square mile area with 80,000 residents. Construction of new precinct office near Five Points West began on January 25, 2012, but was delayed and progress stalled during a dispute between the city and contractor Christopher Woods.


The Department has, at various times, operated from small substations located in areas where an increased police presence is desired. These have included the Studio Arts Building at Five Points South, the Crestwood Festival Center, and the Uptown entertainment district at the BJCC.

Support Services

Until her retirement in September 2010, the Deputy Chief in charge of Support Services was Faye Lampkin, who formerly commanded the East Precinct.

Tactical division

The department's tactical division is comprised of the city's highway patrol, mounted patrol, motor scouts, canine unit and bomb unit.

Vice/narcotics unit

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

BPD SRT K9 patch.jpg

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.

Police accountability

In 1951 Birmingham City Commissioner Bull Connor's wife Beara witnessed an act which she considered to be brutality. Connor investigated and charged Detective Henry Darnell with conduct unbecoming an officer.

The actions of Birmingham Police under the command of Connor opposing the 1960's Civil Rights Movement made international news. It was widely reported that the department was protecting violent segregationists while oppressing black citizens. Television broadcasts of young marchers being attacked by police dogs and fire hoses galvanized sympathy for the movement on the national stage.

Complaints of systematic police brutality became a major issue in 1970s. Councilman Richard Arrington's support of David Vann over the issue helped him to win the 1975 Birmingham mayoral election. Following the shooting death of Bonita Carter by an officer responding to a robbery report at Jerry's Convenience Store in Kingston, tensions rose again. Vann's support for the officer cost him support in the black community and helped propel Arrington into office as the city's first black mayor.

The January 2008 beating of Anthony Warrent while he was unconscious following a high-speed chase 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 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 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.

See also


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