Mayor Sandy Stimpson hosted the mayors of Alabama’s five largest cities at a summit on public safety this week, about five years after promising to make Mobile, among other things, the safest city in America by 2020.
The mayors of Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa joined Stimpson Monday to discuss creative ways to deal with crime in their cities.
“We know law enforcement is bigger than just the police,” Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said. “It’s the home, school and social. There’s no theft of good ideas in this circumstance.”
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, said the summit allowed mayors, chiefs and public safety directors from the five cities to share best practices and tactics for dealing with crime.
“One act of crime is too much,” he said. “We have talked to each other and come up with great ways to practice policing. We all compared crime numbers and how we’re targeting them.”
Mobile, for instance, is dealing with an increase in homicides in 2017, for the second year in a row. In all, the Mobile Police Department recorded 46 homicides last year according to crime statistics submitted annually to the FBI. Mobile in 2017 recorded three more murders than the previous year — one marked by the highest homicide rate in the Port City since 1997.
City spokesman George Talbot said making Mobile the safest city in America remains the goal.
“We’ve had a number of meetings over the last several weeks,” Talbot said, echoing Strange. “We know the police alone won’t be able to get us there. It will take a broader effort from the entire community and the mayor’s office is part of that.”
While there was at least one murder reported in each month of 2017, the largest number occurred in June, when six homicide cases crossed MPD investigators’ desks.
Mobile Public Safety Director James Barber reiterated that it would take a community effort to deal with crime in the city, but added that traditional results-based, reactive policing still would not help.
“We talked a lot about preventive measures,” he said. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of it.”
Law enforcement, he said, would have to lean on the education and faith communities to help before a crime occurs in the future.
“We want to be very good on the preventive side,” Barber said. “We want to stop the trigger from ever being pulled.”
Despite the rising homicide numbers, Barber touted many of the tactics the MPD is already using to stop crime, including data and intelligence-driven processes.
“The tactics are solid,” he said. “We need to do a better job of using them more efficiently with limited resources.”
The mayors and Barber touted the city’s network of security cameras, known as Project Shield, as a way to help prevent crime.
Battle mentioned a need for a heavier focus on tech-based policing and a more proactive style. Strange brought up Project Shield by name, stating that Montgomery needed to follow in Mobile’s footsteps by linking some 5,400 cameras across the city.
“We don’t have 5,400 cameras to help out,” he said. “We need to find out what’s happening.”
Strange joked about finding funding for more cameras, asking Stimpson for a loan. Montgomery has about 10 or 12 neighborhoods linked through its own camera system, he said.