State-of-the-art facility shows Ala. PD 'who is behind the gun’

Police said the Real Time Crime Center was able to resolve a homicide case "within five minutes" on its first day of operation

By Carol Robinson

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Gunshots rang out Tuesday morning in an east Birmingham public housing community, killing one man and leaving a child with minor shrapnel injuries.

Within minutes, investigators had identified a possible person of interest thanks to the department’s Real Time Crime Center, which officially launched on Tuesday.

Police and city officials on Tuesday unveiled the department’s million Real Time Crime Center, which features all-seeing live technology nestled in a hub on the fourth floor of police headquarters.
Police and city officials on Tuesday unveiled the department’s million Real Time Crime Center, which features all-seeing live technology nestled in a hub on the fourth floor of police headquarters. (Carol Robinson)

“Just in the first day of operation, it’s extremely unfortunate that in our city we suffered a homicide today, but within five minutes we were able to resolve that matter,’’ said Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith.

“They were able to pull up video, identify the person involved and give real time information out to our homicide detectives on the scene.”

No charges have yet been announced, but police officials said they are well on their way to solving the crime.

“This is how the real-world, modern-day policing should work,’’ Smith said.

“I really can’t stress enough to the people of the city how important this center is,’’ the chief said.

“Just think back to when the Cupcake incident happened. If this center was in place, if we had the cameras in place, the license plate readers, all of these things, it may have been a completely different story. The same with Sgt. Carter. Think about that.”

Kamille “Cupcake” McKinney is the 3-year-old abducted and murdered in 2019. Sgt. WyTasha Carter was a Birmingham officer killed in 2019.

Police and city officials on Tuesday unveiled the department’s $3 million Real Time Crime Center, which features all-seeing live technology nestled in a hub on the fourth floor of police headquarters.

[RELATED: How real-time crime center technologies are force multipliers]

The center uses real-time technology as well as data-driven intelligence to increase prevention, apprehension and resolution of crime.

The state-of-the art facility was modeled after best practices of those elsewhere, such as Chicago, Detroit and New York City – all centers visited by Birmingham officials.

Included in the new technology are automated license plate readers - high-speed, computer-controlled camera systems that are typically mounted on utility poles, streetlights, highway overpasses, mobile trailers, or attached to squad cars. ALPRs capture all license plate numbers that come into view, along with the location, date, and time.

The data, which includes photographs of the vehicle and sometimes its driver and passengers, is then uploaded to a central server.

The readers help in every level of crime from stolen vehicles to tracking violent suspects.

Another aspect of the center includes new body worn camera technology that will allows officers working the crime center to remotely turn on and off body worn cameras.

[RELATED: Your agency’s guide to building a real-time operations center (eBook)]

“As things are happening – emergency calls – we’re able to turn it on remotely from here so that we can see the interaction as it occurs,’’ Smith previously said.

“We’re able through the use of the computer to form a GEO fence around the area and every officer who drives within the GEO fence, their body worn camera will automatically come on, as well as their vehicle dashcam. That way we can get a full scope of what is happening from various points of view.”

Smith said the department will also beef up its use of its NIBIN program, a system where officers can compare bullet shell casings from shootings to link the bullets back to the gun used to try and find the shooter.

“Our folks who worked with the system were recruited to other cities, so we’ve not been able to get the full use of the system,’’ the chief said. “It’s our goal now to include the system, now that we can show who is behind the gun.”

The chief hopes that the center as a whole will not only help to solve crime but to reduce crime with the knowledge that so many more tools are being used by police, such as the cameras and license plate readers.

The Real Time Crime Center will operate 19 hours a day – hours chosen based on peak crime times. Anywhere from five to eight officers will staff the center during each shift.

“It is a tremendous day for the Birmingham Police Department and the citizens of this city. We’ve come a long way in what we’re trying to accomplish,’’ Smith said.

“In 2019, I laid out a very aggressive plan of what we needed to do to address crime within the city of Birmingham. We wanted to make a difference each and every day. Not just in the small ways, but overall how we police the city – change everything and look at everything that we do.”

The technology, he said, gives them real information in real time and also increases officer safety.

[RELATED: How a camera registry program can benefit both law enforcement and the community]

“Our goal is to produce a much, much safer Birmingham,’’ Smith said. “It’s going to be a little bit before we get everything that we need in here, but I’ll tell you this, there’s no going back. This is a big day for the city of Birmingham.

Those in attendance at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting included Birmingham city counselors, Norther District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona, Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr and Mayor Randall Woodfin.

“You all have heard me say many, many times over the last four years that when we address crime, we want to look at it from a tool box and we want every available tool in the tool box,’’ Woodfin said. “We believe that having the real time crime center is a big tool in our tool box to address and solve crime.”

“It will help make this community safer,’’ Woodfin said. “To our officers on high-risk calls, it will not only increase their safety but the safety of the residents they were sworn to serve.”

Hunter Williams, chairman of the city council’s Public Safety Committee, said city leaders realized long ago they were at a deficit when it came to the equipment, technology and training for officers.

“We knew that we had some systemic problems, we knew that we had some problems with crime, both violent and property, we knew we needed to move the needle in a way that the residents expect of us when we were elected,’’ Williams said.

“We’ve been very intentional in making sure we continue to invest in the resources needed to reduce crime,’’ he said. “In the long run we know that’s education and economic opportunity, and I think the mayor has exemplified that with the Birmingham Promise but in the short run our citizens expect our law enforcement to be able to show up in a timely manner, to be able to solve a crime, and to be able to have the equipment to do so.”

“This is a very small piece of a larger puzzle,’’ Williams said. “We’re going to continue to invest both in this department and this community to make sure that we continue to move the needle in a positive way and that our citizens are getting what they expect as taxpayers and residents.”

Smith said he’s more than excited about the possibilities of the Real Time Crime Center.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve been hit with everything. It’s hard to fight a battle with one hand tied behind your back and your legs clamped together. Coming in, I knew firsthand the tools we were missing. I knew the technology that we were missing. I knew the things absent from our tool box,’’ he said.

“It’s exciting for me to finally turn that corner to make sure that we have everything we need to fight crime in this city.”

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