Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin addressed his city’s crime problem in his “State of the City Address” at the Kiwanis Club luncheon at the Harbet Center on Tuesday morning.
In 2022 alone, there were at least 144 homicides in the city of Birmingham, marking one of the most violent years in the city’s history. Shootings aside, Birmingham also struggled to crack down on reckless driving and drag racing that resulted in several deaths.
Woodfin insisted though homicides were on the rise, the Birmingham Police Department was able to decrease other types of crime.
“Crime is more than homicides,” Woodfin said. “Crime is also rape and robbery and assault and theft, auto theft and burglary … I know homicides [catch] the headlines, but BPD is responsible for many things, and that includes the crimes I named. Although we are not where we want to be with homicides in this city, I am proud to say that under the direction of [BPD Chief Scott Thurmond] that they were able to reduce all those other crimes collectively down by 5.67%.”
Nevertheless, he suggested that the city is working to reduce the violent crime that plagued its residents last year. BPD now offers $5,000 singing bonuses to police officers, and the city shifted police shifts to 12 hours to increase the amount of personnel on patrol at a given time. Birmingham also launched several education and arbitration initiatives to prevent violence from retaliation.
“It is impossible for us to just arrest our way out of crime,” Woodfin said. “… Many times, people get shot. Believe it or not, a lot of people survive. And then what happens is they go back out there, and they retaliate … We needed to come up with a robust program way and way to actually [decrease] the possibility of retaliation, and what that looks like is a partnership with the Jefferson County Health Department.”
Woodfin explained that the city is working with the Jefferson County Health Department to create a “Health Hospital-Linked Violence Intervention Initiative.” This initiative allows community members to enter hospitals to engage gunshot survivors so that they can “provide resources to prevent them or decrease the likelihood of them going out and retaliating.”
The Birmingham City Council approved another program on Tuesday morning called the “Restore” program, a partnership with the Jefferson County Family Court, which provides services for juveniles in youth detention centers.
“Why is that important to you in this room?” Woodfin asked. “Because 80% of these young men and young women are more likely to either kill or be killed. They are more likely to not see the age of 25 or 30, so if we make the necessary investment related to young people, we can change Birmingham’s trajectory related to crime and particular gun violence in our city.”
Birmingham City Schools previously launched a conflict resolution program to decrease violent crime.
After his speech, Woodfin opened up the floor for questions. A woman in the crowd asked him what the city intended to do about the exhibition driving problem specifically.
Woodfin said Birmingham is partnering with public transportation officials to install additional speed bumps. City officials have also worked with state lawmakers to introduce a bill to make criminal exhibition driving completely illegal.
He accused the Jefferson County Delegation of being “reluctant” to add red light cameras.
“We need that exception for cameras for exhibition driving because officers cannot be at every intersection,” Woodfin said. “...If we can actually see and get a tag without being there … we can issue tickets.”
He also said he wants insurance companies to drop people caught participating in exhibition driving events.
In the remainder of the speech, Woodfin discussed the city’s homelessness problem, trash collection efforts, economic development and employment.
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