The Mobile City Council didn’t debate much Nov. 12 when they unanimously approved Jim Barber to become the Mobile Police Chief, but some councilors used the time to voice their concerns about the lack of diversity among the top ranking police officials.
Barber, who began his professional career as a U.S. Marine and joined the Mobile Police Department in 1988, had been a chief deputy since 2006 until his promotion to chief.
The only issue raised by councilors was that he lives in Baldwin County. However, Barber quickly took care of that problem.“Not only did I voluntarily want to relocate back to Mobile, I think it is very important that the chief of police rides the same streets, shops the same stores and lives in the same neighborhoods as the people he is protecting,” he said. “If (the council) can’t trust what I’m saying, then you have the wrong chief. I guarantee I will move.”
Barber will have six months to a year to move back to Mobile, which Mayor Sandy Stimpson said was the precedent.
“During the initial conversation with Chief Barber, the issue (of living in Baldwin County) came up and it was a non-issue because he volunteered that he would move to the city of Mobile under the same guidelines that Sheriff (Sam) Cochran had when he was named chief,” Stimpson said. “They gave him six months to a year to make that transition and he agreed to that. In our mind, we thought that matched with previous protocol.”
The new police chief earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Alabama and a master’s degree in public administration from Troy University. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University of South Alabama.
Stimpson selected Barber to be chief of police because of his vision for the department.
“Deputy Chief Barber has served the Mobile Police Department with distinction for 25 years. It is now his time to lead the department and help make Mobile the safest city in America. He has the experience, vision and respect of his fellow officers. He also has a plan that will transform the department into the finest law enforcement entity in Alabama and along the Gulf Coast,” Stimpson said. “Jim recognizes where the Mobile Police Department needs to be and what is required to get there.”
Barber called for Mobile not to compare itself against the cities with the worst crime rates, but to hold itself to a higher standard.
“I can think of no greater honor than to be entrusted with the fundamental duty to ensure the safety of the public. It is a duty I do not take lightly, but rather with steadfast determination. I will serve this city with honor, with integrity and with transparency,” he said. “For 25 years I’ve watched as we compare the city of Mobile’s crime rate with the 10 worst cities in America. No longer will we compare the crime rate for the city of Mobile to the 10 worst cities in America. We will measure our success against the 10 safest cities in America until such time the city of Mobile is the safest city in America.
“I will accomplish that goal by the year 2020 with the help of the other city administration. That is my mandate from the mayor-elect and that is now the mission of the Mobile Police Department. It is my promise to the citizens of Mobile and failure is not an option.”
Barber also said Mobile would see fewer safety checkpoints and would move police officers to different capacities. Following the unanimous vote that approved Barber to be chief, Councilman Fred Richardson noted the top-ranking officer present at the council meeting was lacking in something.
“Looking out today I see a lot of brass, but I don’t see a lot of diversity,” he said. “I would like that to change.”
Councilman John Williams retorted saying there is no evidence of discrimination.
“If anyone feels there is discrimination in the city in any capacity, I want them to know they should tell me. I will be there on their side when they file the lawsuit, but currently there is no evidence of discrimination by any classification in the city,” he said.
Councilmen Levon Manzie and CJ Small disagreed saying they both have had people reporting discrimination within the city.
“To talk as if discrimination is not prevalent is unrealistic,” Manzie said. “I don’t want people to be under the impression it is not happening.”