"On a daily basis, our officers, as well as Birmingham Fire and Rescue personnel responded to fentanyl overdose calls," said Sgt. Monica Law, Public Information Officer with the Birmingham Police Department.
Daily in 2022 - let that sink in.
"Sadly, fentanyl overdoses are common," Law added. And even scarier, officers say in 2022, they saw fentanyl added to almost every single drug pushed on the streets.
According to Doug Gilmer with the Department of Homeland Security in Birmingham, 0.2 micrograms of fentanyl is enough to kill a person.
"That is such a minuscule amount yet a fatal dose," he emphasized. "It is coming into Alabama from Mexico, often hidden in vehicles, and being added to everything you can think of - meth, heroin, cocaine. We are even seeing it disguised and put in pills to look like aspirin."
Gilmer says fentanyl has been a relatively newer phenomenon within the past five years.
"People are mixing it in their basements and tubs and backyards," he advised. "People don't appreciate the power of fentanyl. It's similar to morphine but 50-100 times more potent. And since it's odorless and tasteless, it can be mixed with anything, and you would never know. Do you think drug lords care about precisely measuring portions when they are mixing drugs and creating pills? Nope, they don't care who dies."
And just to put it into perspective, Gilmer says the Department of Homeland Security seized enough fentanyl off Birmingham streets in 2022 to kill the entire state population of Alabama. Think about that for a minute.
"Imagine a couple of grains of salt … that's about how much Fentanyl is lethal," Gilmer added.
Fentanyl has become such a problem in Alabama the U.S. Attorney's Office is heavily involved in helping, as more drugs lead to more crime overall.
"The U.S. Attorney's Office is working alongside federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to combat crime," stated U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona.
"In Jefferson County, our role supporting law enforcement includes our participation in locally-led working groups to identify the drivers of violent or serious crime in the community, providing training to local partners on specialized topics or tools, and by supporting the efforts of local partners to obtain new crime-fighting resources. We actively participate in working groups of local and federal agencies in Jefferson County that are collaborating to address violent crime, domestic violence, and drug crime. Additionally, our office's work extends to supporting the work of various local programs and service providers that work with at-risk youth, as well as crime prevention and reentry programming for at-risk adults. Relatedly, over the last two years, the Department of Justice has made 20 grant awards to agencies within Jefferson County, totaling more than $7.9 million for crime prevention programming, victim services, law enforcement and prosecution support." Escalona added.
Escalona says Jefferson County is now losing more than 200 people each year to gun violence and more than 400 to drug overdoses.
"Each year, our local hospitals are treating more than 1,000 gunshot wound victims and serving more than 2,500 people suffering from drug overdoses," Escalona outlined. "The escalating fatalities that we're seeing related to firearms and drugs are our primary concerns within Jefferson County. Other than homicides and overdose deaths, crimes involving vehicles are increasing in Birmingham. We are currently seeing a 15% increase of car theft in Birmingham. Much of this increase is being driven by organized car thief rings that aren't just stealing vehicles but also placing cloned VINs on them, which complicates their retrieval. Additionally, theft of firearms in Birmingham through ten months has already outpaced all of those stolen in 2021 by more than 20%. Oftentimes, this theft of firearms is occurring through vehicle break-ins and car thefts."
In 2022, according to the Birmingham Police, there were 1,387 documented auto thefts.
"Vehicles in Birmingham can be stolen by leaving the keys in the ignition or to the extreme of taking them during an armed carjacking," Law said.
"Our advice to vehicle owners would be to never leave your vehicle unattended while running. Also, be mindful of your surroundings when stopping at red lights or intersections," she added.
While addressing violence in Jefferson County is a primary concern, the U.S. Attorney's Office is also focused on reducing the damage drugs still cause in our communities.
"Make no mistake – drugs are still a major and growing concern in Jefferson County. Drug overdose deaths within Jefferson County rose 25% in 2021 to 400 from 302 in the previous year. Fentanyl is killing hundreds of people across Alabama and nearly twice as many as gun violence in Jefferson County. So, while gun crime and homicides are increasing and commanding greater attention in our community, please don't underestimate the harm being done across our community by fentanyl," Escalona added.
So, can the community step in to help reduce violent crime?
"There is no panacea that will cure violence in Birmingham," Escalona explained. "But, one priority concern is that our local law enforcement agencies need more recruits enlisting from our community. Like most employers across the country, there aren't enough qualified applicants to fill all of the roles that we need and expect law enforcement to fill within our community. We saw a decrease of crime during the World Games because we had a robust, visible, passive presence of law enforcement in our community. We have many good law enforcement officers within our community who are doing good work to prevent crimes and protect victims. But, those police agencies need more good people to respond to all of the needs that are present in our community.
"Additionally, law enforcement and our public safety system depends upon the support and cooperation of witnesses and victims of crimes. Too often, witnesses to crimes and victims of crimes are fearful to pursue cases against violent perpetrators in our community. Our community is currently suffering significant harm due to a few number of people committing multiple, repeated offenses. The surest way we have to protect families and our community from further harm is by having the trust of witnesses and the community to participate in the justice process and share the information that they have on violent criminal offenders."
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