Ala. police union issues historic no-confidence vote against Birmingham chief
The no-confidence vote, believed to be the first in the city's history city, cited a spike in violent crime and a new low in morale
By Carol Robinson
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The state’s largest Fraternal Order of Police issued a vote of no-confidence in Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith and Assistant Chief Darnell Davenport at a special called board meeting Wednesday night.
The vote was issued by FOP’s Lodge #1′s executive board, which is made up of the organization’s elected officers, and the board of trustees, which is made up of 12 members.
The FOP Lodge #1 consists of between 1,350 to 1,400 members - 80 to 90 percent of those from Birmingham’s force. The vote was not carried out by the full membership, but the boards voted consistent with feedback they’ve received from the membership.
The no-confidence vote, believed to be the first in the history of the city, cited a spike in violent crime, as well as an unprecedented low in morale among the rank-and-file during Smith’s three-year tenure.
FOP Attorney Liz Young announced the results of the vote.
“Both boards unanimously voted, and hereby formally issue, a vote of no confidence regarding Chief Patrick Smith and Assistant Chief Darnell Davenport,’' Young announced. “The FOP membership has no confidence that either are competent to lead the department and this community.’'
A vote of no-confidence is symbolic only, but it can be seen as a powerful message that the membership has lost faith in the department’s leadership.
“It simply means that the men and women of this city that risk their lives every day to keep us safe do not believe that Chief Smith or Assistant Chief Davenport are competent to lead the Birmingham Police Department,’' Young said.
Birmingham police Cpl. Lawrence Billups, current chairman of the board of trustees for the FOP Lodge #1, said, “I have had the privilege of serving with thousands of different officers in my 30 years of service to the city, but I have never seen departmental morale as low as it is today.”
“Officers of all ages and at all stages of their career are leaving the department because of constant harassment, retaliation and mistreatment by Chief Smith and Assistant Chief Davenport,’' Billups said.
“Every day we encounter members of this community who are afraid to leave their homes because of increasing violence and I don’t blame them. Until we get strong and competent leadership, the city and the police department will continue to decline while crime continues to go up.”
Smith and Davenport said they reject the no-confidence vote.
“This vote does not represent the membership of this department. It represents some retirees who are not here. This vote represents some individuals who simply have a bone to pick,’' Smith told AL.com. “Their argument is lame.”
As for harassment or disparagement of officers, Smith said, “Absolutely not. That doesn’t exist and it hasn’t occurred.”
Since Smith took office in June 2018, Young said, Birmingham has seen murder rates skyrocket to the highest numbers in recent years. Birmingham ended 2020 with its highest number of killings since at least 1995.
“In his short three-year term, eight police officers have been shot, one of which was tragically killed,’' Young said. “It is overwhelmingly apparent that Chief Patrick Smith has no effective plan to reduce violent crime and keep citizens and officers safe.”
As for the morale in the department, Young said not only have officers suffered increasing threats to their safety not only due to crime rates, but also have been subjected to consistent disparaging acts from Smith and Davenport.
“Officers have endured harassment, retaliation, and the police chief’s lack of response to the needs of the department,” she said.
Young said she and FOP board members have repeatedly voiced the concerns of the membership to both Smith and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. The mayor’s office did not immediately comment on the vote.
“Neither have taken any steps to address or improve working conditions, officer safety or officer mistreatment,’' she said.
Dozens of officers ranking from lieutenants and higher have left under Smith’s tenure, Young said.
“One assistant chief and three deputy chiefs with decades upon decades of experience have left since his arrival,’' she said. “These respected leaders left the department not because they were ready to leave but because they did not agree with Chief Smith’s treatment of officers and did not want to be associated with such behavior.”
“Three out of four of the top-ranking officials in place now are from Los Angeles PD,’' she said. “None of them have any prior experience policing in Birmingham.”
Smith, formerly the assistant commanding officer of the Police Sciences and Training Bureau for the Los Angeles Police Department, took the helm of Alabama largest police force three years ago. Smith was chosen from among three finalists after a five-month search led by Woodfin.
Davenport was brought to Birmingham from LAPD by Smith in 2019 as a deputy chief. On December 5, 2020, Davenport was promoted to assistant chief to lead the Administrative Bureau following the retirement of Allen Treadaway.
Smith said it’s his understanding the FOP was presented with a petition from members of the department for a vote of confidence and they decided to take a difference stance or step.
“I can show you from my tenure crime is actually down, overall crime down in terms of our overall numbers. I will point out from our end of the year report, if you go back and take a look at that, crime in all areas were down as high as some 40 percent, except in the area of homicide,’' Smith said.
“And that is consistent with what has been shown across the country as it relates to COVID and .homicides. Birmingham was no different than most major cities across the country.”
Law enforcement, he said, has seen a shift after the death of George Floyd, “in how we do business, how we police the city and how demands are placed on officers.
Some, Smith and Davenport said, don’t like change and new requirements placed on them and the profession.
“Even in the last (discipline) hearing I had, I had to let a number of officers go for things that were considered major violations, in fact many of them were crimes,’' Smith said. “The FOP ends up being on the wrong side of history. They don’t want to see change in this department.”
Davenport said since his arrival, and Smith’s before him, they have beefed up training for officers to keep them safe. That includes tactical training, and even more of a focus on their mental and emotional well-being because of the stress of police work.
Crime, Davenport said, is down.
“We have at least 7,000 less victims over the past two year than before. Each year we’ve had crime reduction,’' he said. “Collectively the department is in a much better place today than it was prior to my arrival.”
“The shooting of Sgt. Carter was horrific, however it led to more training,’' Smith said of the 2019 killing of Sgt. Wytasha Carter.
“Just last month, I spent over $100,000 on more vests for officers. I think the FOP has it completely wrong and I can tell you this is more personal than factual.”
Davenport said many of those who have left the department did so because they didn’t want to deal with higher standards being set by the new administration.
“We are not going to lower our standards and allow people, especially on our command staff, to come to work and not be fully engaged,’' he said.
“Our job at the end of the day is to save lives and prevent crime and that means those lieutenants who may have left, those captains who may have left , and those deputy chiefs, the standard was raised. People are expecting more from the law enforcement officers and we are on the right side of history as it relates to this.”
.”The chief and I, we’ve given our hearts to this job. We’ve tried our best to correct some wrongs. We’ve tried our best to hold people accountable and the end of the day we are trying to make sure this a police department that is accountable and responsive to this city,’' he said.
“It’s unfortunate the FOP would do what they’ve done when the only thing we’ve tried to do is make this department better.”
©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit al.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.