A total of 46 homicides were reported to the Mobile Police Department (MPD) in 2020, which is six more than were reported in 2019.
According to MPD Chief Lawrence Battiste, the majority of the killings can be put in one of two categories: domestic violence-related or drug-related.
“Some are related to domestic violence and some are drug-related beefs people have with each other,” he said. “Another trend I saw in this year’s homicides was that many of our suspects were female. We had 10 female suspects.”
COVID-19 shutdowns, unemployment and isolation had an impact on the homicide rate as well, Battiste said.
“I think it does have something to do with it, the isolation associated with the virus,” Battiste said.
In a statement, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said violent crime prevention is still a focus of his administration.
“One homicide in the city of Mobile is one too many,” he said. “My heart goes out to the families impacted by senseless violence in our community.”
Stimpson applauded MPD for its closure rate related to the homicides. Police identified a suspect and made an arrest in 38 of the 46 killings.
“We also expect that number to rise as suspects connected to homicides reported later in the calendar year are investigated and arrested,” he said. “The MPD’s clearance rate significantly exceeds the national average reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and is higher than rates reported by most police departments in the state of Alabama.”
Both Battiste and Stimpson brought up programs meant to help curb crime in the Port City. Battiste mentioned the department’s family intervention program, which provides access to resources to help teach young people how to deal with issues.
Working to prevent homicides in the city in the first place will help to break the cycle that leads to crime, Battiste said.
“When you have a homicide you have a lot of trauma,” he said. “Somebody’s dead, somebody’s going to prison and multiple households are impacted. It perpetuates the things that lead to violence, including absenteeism. It perpetuates a cycle of violence.”
It’s important, Battiste said, to fix the things that cause people to resort to violence. If that’s addressed, he said, the city will be safer.
Stimpson said the city has expanded its focus on domestic violence prevention, has developed new programming to help, and through partnerships with community organizations and the state, is getting help to those with mental health issues.
“We must continue to invest in programs that will keep the trigger from being pulled in the first place,” he said.
One bright spot for the city was the number of guns stolen out of unlocked vehicles had decreased from the previous year, Battiste said.
“The number of stolen guns is down,” Battiste said. It means the [public service announcements] worked to some extent.”
Councilman Fred Richardson, who is running for mayor this year, said the city needs to get the community more involved in policing. For instance, the long-serving councilman from District 1 brought up the Police Citizens Community Relations Advisory Council, which is meeting again after being reformed last year.
“Until the people become part of the solution, they’re not going to solve it,” Richardson said. “Since Sandy Stimpson has been the mayor he’s locked them out.”
Richardson pointed out Stimpson was opposed to the council when it was first suggested, following the police-involved shooting of Michael Moore. However, the council was slow to make appointments and the community seemed uninterested in the first iteration of the group. It was retooled in 2020 and began meeting again.
Municipal Judge Karlos Finley, who has also announced his candidacy for mayor, said 46 homicides is “horrific,” but said the main cause is a lack of opportunity.
“It’s because people are not engaged about the future,” he said. “We’ve got a real problem we need to address and we can’t police ourselves out of it. It’s a systemic mindset within our city.”
At issue, Finley said, is a mindset from those who commit crimes that they don’t care about anyone else because they think nobody cares about them.
“Policing and prison are not a deterrent,” he said. “We’ve got to look at solutions that include involvement in the community.”
Having more police officers from different communities within the city would be a good start, Finley said. He said police officers from Saraland, Semmes and Baldwin County are viewed as an “invading force,” for folks in Mobile.
Growing up in Toulminville, Finley said he could “throw a rock” and hit a house occupied by an MPD officer. He said he doesn’t believe that’s the case anymore.
“Those officers lived in the community,” he said. “You knew who they were. Those are things that help.”
To ensure more MPD officers live in Mobile, Finley suggested incentivizing those who live within the city limits.
Whether the expected eventual relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions in 2021 will have a positive effect on the overall murder rate this year is unknown, but Mobile started the year out with five murders in its first week.
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