Recent Birmingham police officers describe morale: ‘The worst I’ve ever seen it’

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 9:00 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The Birmingham FOP board is standing by their vote of no confidence in the Birmingham Police Department’s leadership, and specifically Chief Patrick Smith.

A group of Birmingham officers this week questioned that vote and the FOP’s transparency, saying they support Chief Smith’s leadership and believe the majority of the department does as well.

WBRC talked with 3 former Birmingham police officers who all recently left the department involuntarily, and all agreed to speak with WBRC FOX6 on the condition they remain anonymous.

“I’ve talked to officers that have been there 18, 19, 20 years, and they’re all in agreement---this is the worst _’ve ever seen it,” the 1st officer told us.

“I know for a fact in the last several months, people are just leaving,” a 2nd told us. “They’ve got 16, 17 years, but they can’t deal with this administration. Potentially you’re 3-4 years from retiring and you’re just leaving, giving up, because there’s no help on the streets.”

All 3 described morale inside the BPD as extremely low, and blamed what they call double standards of discipline and a culture of fear surrounding Chief Smith.

“This guy is the king of the mountain--either it’s his way or you’re out the door,” says Officer 1.

“At first, I had respect for him, the first year maybe,” says a 3rd officer. “But after that, it’s like his true colors came out and if you’re not in the right circle or agreement with him, you’ve got a target on your back. He sends his internal affairs investigators after you full force.”

Asked how they would respond to the contention that their criticism is the result of resentment from how they left the department, Officer 3 said: “We are not giving you this information just for ourselves only, this is for the whole department because sooner or later it’s gonna happen to another officer. And if we can do something good and get things on a fair playing field for other officers, I think that would help a great deal.”

These officers describe a department that’s so short-staffed, there are nights where 5 or 6 officers are covering 17 beats, but if a fired officer wins an appeal to return, these officers say they’re most often assigned to the city jail rather then their old beat. They say that’s setting them up to fail in a job they haven’t been trained for.

“You get put in the jail, let’s say you make a mistake, you get written up,” warns Officer 3.

“We’ve got officers who know they’ve been mistreated, but they’re just happy they got a job, that they can keep paying their monthly payments to live the way they wanna live, but at the same time they know they’re being mistreated,” Officer 2 says. “But at the same time, they’re afraid to step out and say something because they know what’s going to come back upon them.”

A group of current Birmingham officers sent a letter to the state FOP president last weekend, offering their support of Chief Smith’s leadership and citing 16 ways they believe he has improved the department since he arrived --- including new training, schedules, equipment, and a more diverse workforce. The letter says “the allegations of harassment, retaliation, mistreatment and other disparaging acts are patently false. Chief Smith has been both fair and consistent with all the cases he has presided over.” The letter goes on to ask the state FOP to help them overturn the recent vote of no confidence by the Birmingham FOP board.

Asked if the citizens of Birmingham are safer today then they were a year ago or less safe in your opinions, Officer 3 said “Less safe. Yeah, less safe. In my opinion, all the officers that have early retired because they didn’t wanna deal with Patrick Smith or they were wrongfully terminated? That doesn’t protect the citizens. That’s fewer officers on the streets.”

“Your young officers are looking at that, your veteran officers are looking at that---”I can’t get in trouble if I don’t do anything. I’m not gonna do nothing today,” says Officer 1.

We offered Chief Smith a chance to respond to these criticisms, but his public information officer respectfully declined. The chief did release a statement after the FOP vote of no confidence denying their accusations and pointing to statistics he says show crime in the magic city decreasing overall and saying he’s working to make positive changes he sees as long overdue in the department.

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