When Mayor Sandy Stimpson was looking to fill the role of chief of police for Mobile, he asked James Barber to develop a plan for the department. Barber sat down and penned a 32-paged strategic document that not only changes the department’s command structure and eliminates a precinct, but also saves the Mobile Police Department $1.3 million almost immediately.
Precinct 5 no more
The biggest change obvious to the public will be the elimination of Precinct 5, which is a 64-mile territory that encompasses only 12.8 miles in the city of Mobile. Precinct 5 roughly begins at Hillcrest Road and Airport Boulevard and goes until the police jurisdiction ends outside city limits.
Precincts 2 and 4 will absorb Precinct 5. Part of the reason for the change is Precincts 2 and 4 share a station, located at 4851 Museum Drive. According to Barber, the purpose of a precinct is to offer accessibility to the public, facilitate a speedy shift change and ensure geographical accountability.
“Co-locating the two precincts in Precinct 4 fails to meet the first and second purposes of the precinct concept,” Barber stated in his plan. “Unlike the fire department, police officers do not dispatch from the precinct, but rather from their assigned areas thus the third purpose can still be served. Ideally, Precinct 2 should be located near the Highway 90 and Rangeline Road area in a strategic sense.”
By absorbing Precinct 5 in to Precinct 2 and 4, there would be multiple ranking officers that are in some ways redundant.
MPD’s Public Information Officer Ashley Rains said the reorganization of the officers within the three affected precincts would have to be sorted out.
The precincts are headed by captains. Precinct 2’s captain is John Barber, the chief’s brother. Captain Baronise Dixon was just placed over Precinct 4 this week and Captain Jack Dove is in charge of Precinct 5.
There are other ranking officers — lieutenants, sergeants, corporals, etc. — within the precincts whose places will have to be determined. Rains said no officer would be demoted or fired.
Even though the staffing will remain at current levels, Barber said the change will result in a $750,000 savings by eliminating recurring personnel costs.
Change in police command structure
While the single largest savings for the department will come from eliminating Precinct 5, Barber crafted another plan he says will save more than $530,000 annually.
The new chief changed the command structure to make less top heavy.
Currently the chief of police is over the entire department. The chief deputy chief is the No. 2 person in the MPD with three deputy chiefs under that position. The deputy chiefs are over five major positions. This means there are 10 command staff positions.
Barber threw out the old system saying, “I do not think that anyone has to be very familiar with the operations of the Mobile Police Department to realize that the current budgeted command staff positions are grossly disproportionate to the size of the organization.”
The new command staff will obviously have the chief of police at the top. The No. 2 positions will be Assistant Chief Joseph Kennedy and Administrative Services Phillip Snodgrass, who is retiring on Dec. 20.
Under Kennedy and Snodgrass are four major positions.
This means there are only seven command staff positions now. Once again, no officer will be demoted or fired.
The changes will result in a savings of $536,117, Barber said.
Use of savings
Barber has created a way for saving the MPD $1.3 million and wants to use the money in a few ways.
First, of the 608 vehicles used by the police department, 50 percent have traveled more than 100,000 miles, and Barber has a plan to replace the entire fleet in five years by purchasing 100 cars every year. The hope, Rains said, is the department could do this through savings and existing money and not have to ask the City Council for additional funds.
Some of the money would also go to awards and special merit raises.
“Output measures should be measured and rewarded just as bravery in combat,” Barber said in his plan. “However, if we are to accomplish our mission, those who make a major contribution to crime prevention as measured by outcome should receive awards that are higher in prestige than those measured output.”
Barber gave an example of output versus outcome. He said an officer who makes arrests in 25 burglaries should be acknowledged for output. However, the officer has not stemmed the problem of burglaries. Therefore, if an officer creates a way that deters burglary as a whole, then that person should be rewarded for the outcome.
To encourage officers to think outside the box and work harder, Barber has created a system for merit raises. These would be given to those who work to make Mobile the safest city through crime prevention.
The changes to the structure of command staff and precincts in Mobile will save the department money, but Barber believes the shift in how MPD fights crime will help Mobile toward its goal of being the safest city in America.
Barber noted there is no “silver bullet” that stops crime. Instead, crime should be attacked from all angles he said. Prevention is key in fighting crime. Barber listed three types of prevention — primary, secondary and tertiary.
“Primary prevention focuses on neighborhoods that have low incidence of crime and account for about 90 percent of the geographical area of the city of Mobile,” he said in his plan. “Like many other cities in the United States, Mobile has enjoyed lower crime rates over the past decade and yet citizen’s fear of crime has increased.”
To fight that perception, Barber said the department will make a sincere effort to address the fear of crime and focus on crime reduction.
Reduction can be done by the secondary prevention, which focuses on areas that have a disproportionate amount of crime and account for about 10 percent of the geographical area in the city.
These areas, which are referred to as hotspots, also include the 10 percent of “career criminals” who commit 60 to 80 percent of the crime, according to Barber.
This leads to the tertiary prevention, which is to make sure repeat offenders are prosecuted and incarcerated.
Barber is also making strides in the Intelligence Unit. The MPD will team up with the FBI, DEA, ATF and U.S. Marshal’s Service to work with the agencies in order to prevent crime.
“This is the first time this has been done to this degree in the Mobile Police Department,” Barber said. “We made our records available to the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office for the first time and in return they made their records open to us.”
Barber said with that cooperation among the agencies, Mobile has a much better chance at becoming the safest city in America.
“Crime has gone down in the last 10 years, but people have a perception it hasn’t. Some living in those hot spots or victims of crime have every reason to have the perception that crime hasn’t gone down,” Barber said. “In order to be the safest city in America, the city needs to feel safe first.”
Updated Nov. 22 at 9:48 to include comments about crime prevention.