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Birmingham police down nearly 300 officers as violent crime surges

The city council budgeted funding for 720 officers this year, but 296 positions remain unfilled

Birmingham police down nearly 300 officers as violent crime surges: What is being done?

“We’re having three-year, five-year, nine-year and 13-year vets packing up and leaving,” Hall told AL.com. “So obviously there are some issues there that we’ve got to iron out. We’re trying to iron out a couple of things and present a plan to the mayor’s office.”

Birmingham Police Department via Facebook

By Joseph D. Bryant
al.com

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Amid mounting reports of deadly violence, the Birmingham Police Department is operating with nearly 300 fewer officers than the city has set aside money to pay.

There are 296 unfilled positions, said Birmingham City Council President Darrell O’Quinn, citing a city department personnel report the council received in April.

“That’s factual information and we hear it anecdotally from people on the street in terms of response times,” O’Quinn told AL.com.

The council budgeted funding for 720 officers this year, but hiring has fallen short by nearly 300 positions.

At the same time, the city faces weeks of high-profile, deadly violence, while the thinner police force deals with jumps in emergency calls, and response times lag, O’Quinn said. The city council this week approved a plan for a Citizens Observer Patrol, with volunteers — up to 200 of them — who are not police officers helping patrol neighborhoods.

Officer Deangelo Hall, president of the Birmingham Fraternal Order of Police, said the shortfall of officers is a troubling problem that has multiple causes, including low employee morale due to longer shifts and high stress.

“We’re having three-year, five-year, nine-year and 13-year vets packing up and leaving,” Hall told AL.com. “So obviously there are some issues there that we’ve got to iron out. We’re trying to iron out a couple of things and present a plan to the mayor’s office.”


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Money is not the problem, said O’Quinn.

In fact, the police department at the end of 2023 fiscal year left $12 million of its budget unspent, he said.

“That’s been the case for several years running — that the police department has had a large number of vacancies for many consecutive years,” the council president said.

Rick Journey, the mayor’s director of communications, declined to give specifics regarding the police numbers, saying the city does not discuss internal law enforcement operations.

Mayor Randall Woodfin has publicly mentioned the challenge of recruiting and retaining officers. He and other officials are pleading for peace in the city.

The mayor went to the council this week for approval of citizen-led alternative policing and public safety initiatives, such as the Citizens Observer Patrol.

Hall, the FOP president, balked at the timing and tone of that proposal.

“You’re presenting a plan to bring in civilians to help report crimes, but you haven’t presented anything to help bring officers in,” he said. “That’s a big time problem. Do you not care about our feelings and how we are short?”

Hall described it as short-sighted to present a plan without also addressing the causes of the reduced police force. He said because of low morale in the department, some officers leave for lower paying jobs in order to work in a better environment.

O’Quinn acknowledged a wide range of factors that contribute to the difficulty of improving the number of officers, including the low morale and the city’s early 20-year-retirement which takes away relatively young officers.

“We have to think about public safety differently, beyond traditional policing,” O’Quinn said. “And part of that is what we did on Tuesday by authorizing his auxiliary police program and the citizen observer patrol program. But there’s a lot more, especially on the technology side that could be implemented.

“There’s more that could be done that doesn’t look like having a guy with a badge and a gun that can be effective toward creating a safer environment,” O’Quinn added.

But he also said there’s work to be done within the police department.

“When morale is low among your existing employees, it’s hard to recruit new employees and it’s definitely hard to retain folks who have experience whom you want to stay,” O’Quinn said.

Hall said he remains optimistic in spite of the continued challenges.

“We’re going to do our part. We’re going to help recruit officers Birmingham is still a great city and Birmingham still has a lot to offer,” he said.

“It’s not all misery, but we definitely have to get that recruitment effort to bring law enforcement officers in and also make the law enforcement profession more pleasing to the eye of the communities.”

O’Quinn said the city needs to consider a multitude of solutions.

“In some sense it’s not unfair to say that a bit of an overhaul is needed in how we approach public safety,” he said.

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