Birmingham police taking scientific approach to fight crime

Violent crime numbers coming down?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Just this week, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin reiterated that the crime rate in Birmingham continues to drop. He said he knows things can get better and adds Birmingham Police Department (BPD) can’t fix the problem alone. We recently sat down with BPD to take a more in-depth look into how the department is now taking a more scientific approach to fight crime.

For Wanda Stephen, it’s like it happened yesterday.

“My son has been gone for 13 years and it’s still unsolved. It hurts my heart, but I have to go on,” Stephen said.

Since her son George Powell Jr. was shot and killed in 2006, Stephen, who’s also a pastor, has been speaking out passionately about putting an end to gun violence. Her son was 23 years old and left behind five kids.

“Think before you pull a gun on somebody. Not only that but your children. Don’t die for your brothers in the hood. Live for your children. We got some many children growing up without their fathers today,” Stephen said.

When it comes to crime in Birmingham, police say so far the city is seeing a 14.5 percent drop in overall violent crime, including homicides, assaults and robberies. BPD says fewer shots are also being fired. Stephen tells us she finds the decrease a little hard to believe.

“All these children getting killed. Last week was a very, very violent week. How can you say that crime is down?” Stephen said.

Despite the recent violence, Birmingham police say technology is helping bring down the numbers. BPD recently reinstated CompStat, which is a combination of management and organizational tools designed to track crime. They also use the predictive policing software called PredPol.

Deputy Chief Darnell Davenport recently showed us how it works.

"We are able to predict where crime is going to occur based on historical information that we look at in the past, and so based on where we believe it will occur, we deploy based on that information and based on real-time information,” Davenport said.

That real-time information is now provided during daily crime control meetings, which Davenport is a part of. Those meetings start with a rundown of all the crime taking place in the city.

“The way we deploy is really data driven and community focused. We want to be very effective. We want to put the officers where the incidents are occurring to prevent those incidents from occurring,” Davenport said.

Davenport says BPD is trying to make police work more scientific by following trends and patterns to know how to respond. But he says you can’t rely solely on technology. He says good old-fashioned police work still plays a role.

Stephen would like BPD to focus more on mental health of the community, especially with young children.

“A lot of our kids are having mental issues. They are not having the proper living and everything, and some of their mothers aren’t raising them right. We need to get some programs implemented to get them some mental health,” Stephen said.

Stephen hopes one day she doesn’t have to put together vigils for victims of crime. She says the senseless violence needs to stop because the impacts are real.

“Put the weapons down and pick up the word of God. To know God is to know peace,” Stephen said.

Using data from the FBI, the website 24/7 Wall Street recently reported Birmingham is in the top 10 when it comes to the most dangerous cities in the country. The report says Birmingham is one of only three U.S. cities with a violent crime rate more than five times higher than the national average. Memphis ranks one spot ahead of the Magic City on the top 10 list.

You can read more on the 24/7 Wall Street report here.

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