On the day Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced a major leadership change at the Mobile Police Department, law enforcement officials quietly released an annual report showing an uptick in the city’s overall and violent crime rates.The 2016 report, which was published on MPD’s website March 17, indicates the city of Mobile saw an 8.9 percent increase in total crime, a 10.7 percent rise in violent crimes and a dramatic 70.8 percent jump in the rate of homicides from 2015 to 2016.
Included in the annual report is data the MPD submits to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for inclusion in the agency’s annual Uniform Crime Reports (UCR).
According to the data, there were 41 homicides, 87 rapes, 438 robberies, 1,279 aggravated assaults, 2,564 burglaries and 891 vehicle thefts reported in Mobile’s police jurisdiction last year.
Compared to the statistics compiled in 2015, Mobile saw increases in all major crime categories included in the UCR with the exception of reported rapes, which saw a 26.3 percent reduction in 2016.
While the other rates undeniably increased, the number of crimes reported in 2016 was not record-setting.Former MPD Chief James Barber, who was promoted to public safety director the day the report was released, said the increase last year followed national crime trends, which have steadily increased over the past two years.
Specifically, Barber pointed to a surge in teenage gun violence that resulted in 12 deaths last year as well as a particularly violent October, which is when half of the murders Mobile recorded in 2016 occurred.
According to Barber, both instances were “unprecedented” for the city.“We’ve never seen that many homicides in one month,” he said. “If you were to remove October, things wouldn’t have looked as bad, and if you were to remove the teen violence, we would have had an incredible year. Those two things threw it completely out of whack.”
Barber also attributed the increase in crime to “the Ferguson effect” — an idea that increased scrutiny on law enforcement following recent officer-involved shootings has led to an “anti-police” mentality and an increase in crime against and in spite of law enforcement.
Barber has previously blamed “the Ferguson effect” for poor recruitment numbers, a former lieutenant ordering officers not to respond to reported shootings and changes in MPD policies that caused a weapon to not be recovered at the scene of a controversial officer-involved shooting death last summer.
“Because of the war on cops, there was a continuing disrespect for the law and it’s emboldened criminal elements. That was part of the Ferguson effect,” he added. “Villainizing law enforcement had an incredible impact on officer morale as well, kind of bolstering the bad guys, to be honest.”
Other than the city’s murder rate, one thing the 13 homicides reported in October did was prompt direct action by the department, including an aggressive approach dubbed “City H.E.A.T. (Heightened Enforcement and Apprehension Tactics)” to target specific, high-crime areas.
At the same time, Stimpson’s office launched the YES (Youth Empowered for Success) Initiative, which focuses on addressing problems such as poverty, violence, unemployment and a lack of recreational opportunities affecting young people in Mobile.
Barber recently credited the YES Initiative as well as enforcement and prevention tactics with a reduction in violent and teenage crimes seen so far in 2017. However, he also suggested the quarterly crime reports only provide “a snapshot.”
One of the positive points in the report was Mobile’s clearance rate for various crimes compared to the rates of other agencies around the country.
In 2016, MPD cleared 30 of the 41 murders reported in Mobile — a 73.2 percent clearance rate that exceeds the national average of 61.5 percent and the average among Southern states, which was reported at 62.5 percent.The department also exceed the national and Southern averages for the clearance of rapes, robberies and motor vehicle thefts. According to Barber, that’s not unusual for the MPD.
“A lot of that is attributed to the fact that general investigation details are assigned specifically to each precinct, so they actually get to know property criminals because they’re usually repeat offenders,” he said. “We have a really good investigative services team and great technology that we utilize through our cyber intel and intelligence unit.”
With that said, though, Barber said there are still ongoing efforts at MPD to make sure the city has a grip on crime, adding that “being able to identify suspects” is only part of the department’s job.
“That in itself is not going to make us safer. We’ve got to prevent these triggers from being pulled if we truly want to be safe,” he added. “Catching the person who pulled it is just part of what we do, but we’ve also got to address the cause of it.”
Lagniappe reached out to the Stimpson administration seeking comment on this report but did not receive a response by this publication’s press deadline. One of the mayor’s primary campaign platforms was a pledge to make Mobile “the safest city in America” by 2020.
A full copy of the MPD’s 2016 Annual Report is available below.