During his first campaign four years ago, incumbent Sandy Stimpson hung his hat on making Mobile the “safest city in America by 2020” even as the murder rate was heading in the wrong direction, while challenger Sam Jones looks to defend what some have called questionable police tactics during his own two terms in office. All this means the city’s crime rate will play a major role in this summer’s race for mayor.
Overall, the city has seen a decline in major crimes over the last few decades and Stimpson takes credit for overseeing the “lowest total number of Part I crimes,” which include murder and homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny-theft, and arson.
“This means that under programs like ‘Bridging the Gap,’ ‘Second Chance or Else’ and the ‘YES Initiative,’ we are making progress,” Stimpson wrote in an email. “While we are tracking these crime numbers very closely, it is important to remember that victims of crime aren’t just numbers. We won’t stop fighting for every single victim of violent crime, until the numbers are zero.”
During his campaign announcement at Greater Nazaree Baptist Church June 17, Jones accused Stimpson of not going after crime in the right ways. Many of his supporters cited cuts Stimpson had made to social programs like the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama.
In a phone interview last week, Jones touted his own tactics as a better way to combat crime. He mentioned staffing a youth curfew center, a program teaming up with local community action groups and other initiatives.
“You have to be more proactive than reactive,” Jones said. “It’s beneficial to the police department and it’s beneficial to everyone.”
The Mobile Police Department reported 13,836 major crimes in 2016, according to its annual report. Homicides spiked to 41 from 24 the year before. In total, there were 87 reported rapes, 438 robberies, 1,279 aggravated assaults, 2,654 burglaries, 8,443 larcenies and 891 car thefts.
In 2015, Stimpson’s second full year in office major crimes totaled 12,710 including 118 rapes, 405 robberies, 1,102 aggravated assaults, 2,228 burglaries, 8,214 larcenies and 601 vehicle thefts.
The numbers show an increase of 8.9 percent in total crime from 2015 to 2016 and a 10.7 percent rise in violent crime.
In 2011, Jones’ second full year of his second term, there were 30 murders and 15,252 total major crimes, according to the same reports. In addition to the homicides, the crimes included 48 rapes, 637 robberies, 880 aggravated assaults, 4,061 burglaries, 8,893 larcenies and 703 vehicle thefts.
In 2012, the city saw 29 homicides and 13,414 total major crimes. They included: 45 rapes, 460 robberies, 777 aggravated assaults, 2,796 burglaries, 8,755 larcenies and 552 vehicle thefts.
Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber, who was a Mobile Police Department deputy chief during the Jones administration, said the 2012 crime statistics were lower, but that Stimpson has presided over three years with the lowest total amount of crime out of the last four decades. Although he said he has no reason to doubt the numbers, Barber admitted the 2012 numbers were never audited.
Barber said the department was mired in a report-fixing scandal in 2013, but the city still saw an increase in crime of nearly 10 percent from 2012.
According to records of a day-long Mobile County Personnel Board hearing on the matter, Barber testified there were concerns burglaries were being downgraded to criminal mischief and theft of property. Charges were leveled at then-First Precinct Capt. Eddie Patrick. Of the 905 First Precinct cases reviewed by Internal Affairs, 85 were inappropriately changed, according to testimony.
Jones said he doesn’t believe the report fixing scandal was widespread enough to have an impact on the stats.
Meanwhile, Stimpson said the surging homicide rate in 2016 can be partly attributed to a spike in youth violence. Last year, Barber said, there were 12 teenagers killed. Stimpson also cited domestic violence as a factor. In response, Stimpson’s administration and the MPD have teamed up with business leaders to provide summer jobs for youths 16 to 24 years old through the city’s Youth Empowered for Success, or YES Initiative.
“Two of the most important issues facing public safety in Mobile are youth gun violence and domestic violence,” Stimpson wrote. “The YES Initiative is a very positive step forward on youth violence and we are working to build upon the success and expand its reach. Domestic violence is a more complex issue. It is time we have an honest conversation about how to tackle this growing epidemic.”
Reports for 2017 are not yet available. A spreadsheet provided by Barber tracks crime going back to 1986, when Mobile saw 47 homicides and a total of 20,131 major crimes. The homicide rate has fluctuated since 1986, but was at its highest in 1998 at 52. While the total number of major crimes saw a high of 21,628 in 1992, it has generally decreased since, according to the spreadsheet.
Law enforcement tactics
In addition to the curfew center, Jones touted his administration’s use of gun buyback programs to get potential weapons off the streets. But Barber called gun buyback programs “largely ineffective.” He said residents would use the events to get rid of old guns found in closets, but the people actively using guns for crime wouldn’t participate.
Jones also touted roadblocks or safety checkpoints to curb crime. He said the checkpoints kept drivers more vigilant.
“It kept people from riding around with drugs, guns or alcohol,” he said. “It had some impact even though it wasn’t popular. We had to do it.”
Barber said he’s mostly against checkpoints unless there’s a bona fide public safety justification. For instance, two recent checkpoints on Duval Street and at Village Green Apartments allowed officers to search for wanted shooting suspects.
Checkpoints and roadblocks were also part of the Jones Administration’s Operation Impact, which Barber said ended “with a lot of pissed off people.”
As a larger tactic, though, Operation Impact was used by the MPD to “saturate” largely minority neighborhoods with police on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Barber said. The police would then make arrests based on any illegal activity observed, no matter how minor, because the operation was ouput driven, Barber said.
As an example, he offered how a resident of one of these communities might be arrested for simply grabbing a beer and talking to a neighbor outside his or her house. In contrast, Barber, who lives in Heron Lakes, said if police were to arrest someone in his neighborhood for talking to a neighbor while drinking wine there’d be an uproar.
Jones admitted Barber would have good information on the operation because “he ran it.” Barber said he was not in charge of the operation, but was deputy chief at the time.
When Barber took over as chief, he switched tactics to more “outcome” driven measures. Hot spots policing uses intelligence gathering to pinpoint people and locations that have destabilized larger communities over time. Those individuals and locations are targeted for enforcement, rather than rounding up everyone in a specific area, Barber said.
Stimpson suggested Operation Impact wasn’t working.
“Instead of targeting entire communities, we are targeting the individuals committing the crimes,” he wrote. “The results are removing the dangerous criminals from the streets, instead of handing out a bunch of minor traffic tickets in their neighborhoods and infringing on the rights of our citizens.”
Arrests and bookings
Operation Impact ran for a total of 13 months, from the fall of 2012 to when Barber took over as chief. During that time, the operation netted more than 4,200 arrests.
Lagniappe tallied all the reported arrests during June 10-17, 2013, when Operation Impact was in effect, and compared them to a tally of all the arrests during June 10-17, 2017, discovering that the MPD under the Jones administration made more total arrests.
During the week in 2013, MPD recorded 329 total arrests, according to Mobile Metro Jail records. During the same week in 2017, the MPD made 205 arrests.
Jones blamed the higher arrest numbers on some officers using Operation Impact to harass people.
“It was because of some individuals, not the program itself,” he said. “Hopefully most of them are not there anymore.”
Jones also said the higher arrest numbers had much to do with the economy. He said 2011 and 2012 were during the “height of the recession” and there “was a lot of property crime taking place.”
Department size and performance
Under Jones in 2012, the MPD was larger, with a total of 856 employees. Of this, 560 were sworn and 296 were civilians. The department had 11 captains, 42 lieutenants, 65 sergeants and 76 corporals.
In 2016, the MPD had a total of 736 employees. Of those, 496 were sworn and 240 were civilians. The department had two chiefs, four majors, nine captains, 32 lieutenants, 60 sergeants and 74 corporals.
The number of complaints against the MPD were lower in 2012 compared to 2016. During 2012, there were 17 complaints against police officers, spanning 44 areas of concern, of those, 21 percent of investigations found an officer acted inappropriately.
Jones said there were very few cases of police brutality while he was mayor. He said it was made very clear that the MPD would “treat all citizens the same.”
“You have to have respect for the general public,” Jones said.
In 2016, the number of complaints jumped to 50. They encompassed 144 areas of concern, according to the annual report. Of those, 20 percent showed inappropriate action by the officer. Barber attributed at least some of the increase in the number of complaints to growing distrust of police departments nationally.
Some residents’ distrust of the MPD escalated when 19-year-old Michael Moore was shot and killed by officer Harold Hurst after a traffic stop on June 13, 2016. In November, a Mobile County grand jury determined Hurst should not face charges for the shooting. Two men riding in the car gave statements saying Moore put a stolen pistol in the rear waistband of his shorts and exited the car to confront Officer Hurst moments before the shooting, but tensions ran high in the African-American community for weeks following the incident.
Following Moore’s death, the Mobile City Council created a Police Citizens Community Relations Advisory Council, which Stimpson initially opposed as being redundant to an already-established council. He came on board after he was allowed appointments to the council and other concessions.
Residents have complained recently that members of the advisory council are not easy to contact and there is very little information about it posted to the city’s website. But the council will meet Thursday, July 13 at 6 p.m. at the Springhill-Moorer Library at 4 S. McGregor Ave. According to a press release,the advisory council is holding regular meetings throughout the city to provide citizens a better opportunity to attend.