City of Birmingham

Birmingham Conducting Review of Police Department Procedures, Could Make Changes to Operate in Post-George Floyd World

New Black Lives Matter mural being finished downtown after the killing of George Floyd. (Source: Tom Gordon)

In a Wednesday morning press conference, Mayor Randall Woodfin sketched out plans for how the Birmingham Police Department will proceed “in a post-George Floyd world.”

Those plans, he said, involve a 30-day internal review and the formation of a community safety task force that will perform a “90-day deeper dive into all our BPD rules and procedures.” Any “gaps between what we do now and best practices,” he said, would be addressed via executive order.

“Everything is on the table,” he said.

The press conference followed nationwide unrest after unarmed Minneapolis man George Floyd was killed by police officer Derek Chauven, who knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for eight minutes and 48 seconds. Birmingham has since been the site of several protests, most notably a May 31 demonstration at Linn Park that escalated into violence and property damage and led Woodfin to impose a weeklong curfew that strongly curtailed peaceful demonstrations in the city.

That curfew was lifted Monday night. Tuesday morning, dozens of protestors gathered at City Hall to demand the city “defund the police,” specifically, to reallocate part of the Police Department’s $150,000 ammunition budget to social services.

On Wednesday morning, Woodfin said that the Birmingham Police Department’s budget will be “combed through,” as would the budgets for all community-facing departments, including the Department of Community Development and the Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity.

Birmingham Police Chief Patrick D. Smith, also present at the press conference, added that much of the department’s ammunition budget is dedicated to providing officers with ammunition for handgun training and certification.

During Wednesday morning’s press conference, Woodfin and Smith largely focused on addressing the national “8 Can’t Wait” campaign, which calls for police departments to adopt more restrictive use-of-force policies, including banning chokeholds and requiring police to issue verbal warnings before using deadly force.

Woodfin said his initial 30-day internal review would focus on the criteria laid out by that campaign. “At the end of that 30-day period, I will issue an executive order executing any gaps we find (in) what we do,” he said. In that period, his administration also will appoint a community safety task force that will look more closely at the department’s rules and procedures; after 90 days, Woodfin said he would “use a final executive order” to make any necessary changes.

But Woodfin spent much of Wednesday’s press conference praising Smith and the BPD, citing a 30% drop in violent crime and a 27% drop in property crime since Smith was hired in 2018.

Smith highlighted his engagement with Birmingham residents, saying that his “first order of business” upon taking the job of police chief was “to listen.” That resulted in some internal changes to the department, he said

“When I listened to you two years ago, you told me that there were officers in this department that should not be here,” Smith said. “Since taking over as chief of police, 16 officers on this department have been terminated … 39 have received suspension days, 25 have received additional training, and 12 have been sent to counseling.” Twelve more officers, he added, have been exonerated. Smith said he would make basic information about those cases public.

Woodfin added that accountability “is a key value for our administration,” including the police department. “We still have much work to do but we are moving in the right direction,” he said. “We’re committed to a level of accountability and transparency to build and maintain trust among all people of Birmingham.”