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Community weighs in after Birmingham FOP Board calls for resignations of police chief and assistant chief

Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 6:32 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Today the Birmingham FOP Board and it’s attorney are calling on Mayor Randall Woodfin to replace Police Chief Patrick Smith and Assistant Chief Darnell Davenport. Last night the FOP Executive Board and Board of Trustees voted no confidence in Smith’s leadership.

The FOP board attorney says they have tried to work out problems with the police department for months and now the board believes its time for change at the top here at headquarters.

“The amount [of officers] that have left is unprecedented. The amount of upper level, upper ranking officers from lieutenants to captains to assistant chiefs to deputy chiefs; they have been leaving by the dozens,” Liz Young, FOP attorney said.

Cpl. Lawrence Billups, a member of the FOP Board of Trustees and a Birmingham Police officer, said relationship with the police administration is difficult. “In my 30 years morale is the lowest than it has ever been. We have guys. We have a 20 year retirement and we have people leaving within two or three years of their retirement based on the lack of morale,” Cpl. Billups said.

”Chief Davenport and I believe in accountability and high standards. Some people have a hard time adjusting to this level of accountability and new requirements,” Chief Smith in the statement said.

Young said there needs to be a change. “At this point the department can not move forward. The officers don’t have any confidence in Chief Smith’s ability to lead or the assistant chief’s ability to lead,” she said.

“In reference to harassment or disparagement of officers, those claims are not factual and has not occurred,” Chief Smith said in his statement.

Chief Smith in his statement, says he continues to plan to lead the police department and to work to bring crime down.

Smith says the board’s decision does not reflect the entire FOP or Birmingham Police Officers.

“The recent vote of no confidence made by the FOP is strongly rejected and serves only as the opinions of a small group of 12 who made this decision without consulting with the majority of FOP members and Birmingham Police Officers. After speaking to several of our officers, I found several BPD Officers of the department were caught by surprise with this vote and had no knowledge of this decision made by these 12 members. Some voters consisted of retirees, some who are no longer employed by the Birmingham Police Department and some who simply have a bone to pick with alternate agendas.”

A Gardendale attorney, a former Birmingham police officer and who has represented officers, disagreed. “It’s an appropriate vote, at the appropriate time. It should have been done months and months ago,” Morro said.

Community leaders are concerned. They are focused on keeping their neighborhoods safe. At the same time criticism of the leadership of the department is not what they want to see.

“The residents I work with across Birmingham don’t agree with the FOP’s analysis of Chief Smith,” Rob Burton, Secretary of the Glen Iris Neighborhood Association said.

Burton says he believes the police department could be more transparent and change some policing priorities. “I have not heard that dissatisfaction from our beat officers.” Burton said.

After their vote, the FOP board took note of the increase in crime, especially violent crime as a concern about the leadership of Chief Smith. “We need to have a better relationship. If we don’t have that relationship with the administration it will greatly affect the way we patrol and police the community.” Billups said.

Smith said crime has dropped. “During my tenure, overall crime is down in terms of numbers. Our end of the year report reflects every category of crime were down in 2020 except in the area of homicide. Some areas were down as low as a 40% decrease.”

One East Lake community leader said crime is still a problem. “I contacted the city council about break in’s, overdoses in the neighborhood prostitution and have been ignored.” Robert Walker, President Walhouma Neighborhood Association said.

The FOP board questioned the drop in over all crime, saying COVID impacted some of the drop but violent crime remains a major concern. “Murder rates have continued to climb. We are on target if it continues to be the highest murder rate in a very long time.” Young said.

Chief Smith said he remains committed to keeping the city safe “As Chief of Police I will continue to lead this department to ensure we are fighting crime efficiently and strive to assure Birmingham is provided with the highest quality of police services. Your safety is my top priority. "

UPDATE: Following Wednesday’s vote of no-confidence by the executive board, the membership body of the lodge responded Thursday evening with a letter to the board questioning their actions.

The letter, written on behalf of members of the body of Birmingham’s FOP, says they do not support the executive board’s no-confidence vote against Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith and Assistant Chief Darnell Davenport.

Also Thursday night, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin issued the following statement:

“Last night, the FOP executive board bucked their hardworking membership and held a private meeting to ensure their own private interests. Let’s be clear: this secret, politicized vote means absolutely nothing and only serves to give a platform to anti-reform police executives who are fear-mongering over increased accountability. If other campaigns for mayor believe that this is an honest attempt by FOP leaders living beyond Birmingham’s borders to solve and fight deep-rooted crime within our neighborhoods, they’re playing a political game of checkers. This is a distraction, plain and simple -- and quite frankly, this is no time for simple games. The Woodfin for Mayor campaign will continue to focus on what matters most: reimagining public safety, fighting gun violence, and not giving in to regressive political tactics.”

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