Reporting a violent crime can earn anonymous tipsters a cash reward thanks to a new Crime Stoppers-based community outreach campaign targeted at reducing gun violence in Birmingham.
The City of Birmingham will be working in symphony with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the United States Attorney’s Office and Crime Stoppers of Metro Alabama in an initiative that was announced at a press conference last week.
“We’re looking to enhance community involvement and enhance the prosecution of those who need to be prosecuted and deter people from providing guns to criminals,” ATF Special Agent Jeff Fulton said. “We want people to be more aware of gun-related violence and not be afraid to contact a law enforcement agency so that it can be addressed on the front end,” Fulton said.
The press conference took place under one of the “Report Gun Crimes” billboards on 20th Street South, which also provides the telephone number of the anonymous tip line citizens can call if they witness a crime. Above the telephone number, “Cash Reward” is written in bold letters.
The reward – for some the most important aspect of the outreach campaign — is being spearheaded by the Crime Stoppers of Metro Alabama. According to their website, up to $5,000 will be rewarded for, “accurate tips leading to solving crimes and arresting criminals.”
Frank Barfield, the chairman of the board for Crime Stoppers, said that his organization hopes the new community outreach campaign will bring in wanted criminals and tie up some of the unsolved crimes in Birmingham.
“We only work on felony-related crimes. On our website we feature criminals who law enforcement agencies are looking for and a list of unsolved crimes that people can offer information about,” Barfield said.
“We never ask people for their personal information. You can call or email us anonymously. We assign that person a code and they then call back once a week and see if their tip produced something. If it has, we give them a cash reward,” Barfield said.
Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper commended Crime Stoppers, an organization that has worked closely with law enforcement agencies since 1981. “Crime Stoppers have been a vital tool in the Birmingham metro area. The new strategy to reduce violent crime in Birmingham begins there,” Roper said.
According to Roper, the main objective of this campaign is to get guns off the streets. “A few days ago I was reviewing the results of several search warrants executed by our narcotics unit. In every instance there was at least one firearm at the location. And in most instances there were several guns when officers went into those homes,” Roper said.
Fulton agrees that the even though the violent crime rate in Birmingham has declined in recent years, too many guns still end up in violent hands.
“Firearm-related crime is still too prevalent. We’ve had a lot of federal firearm licensees be burglarized lately in this area. The second a gun gets taken from a home or vehicle it becomes a crime gun. It is going to be used by criminals to terrorize the community. So our goal is to get a better handle on firearm-related crime here,” Fulton said, adding that of the 60 murders this year, 45 of them were shootings.
Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale underlined the fact that this is not a campaign against gun ownership. “Guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens is not the issue. Guns in the hands of criminals and thugs and slugs, that’s the issue. Let’s get the guns out of their hands. If we do that, the Birmingham metropolitan area will be a safer place. You can trust us on that,” Hale said.
United States Attorney Joyce Vance believes the goal of the campaign should be aimed at encouraging members of the community to take control of their own safety by utilizing the Crime Stoppers’ tip line.
“We’re working with federal and local groups to attack violent crime problems where we find them and to get people who abuse guns in our communities in jail where they belong. We want to bring information to the community and let people know how to use tip lines to advise law enforcement about criminal activity so that the citizens, in essence, can take control of their community,” Vance said.
Birmingham has long been plagued by a culture of violence, according to Mayor William Bell. “Guns on the street lead to no good deeds,” Bell said. “It is through the hard work of the ATF, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, our District Attorney, our Sheriff’s Department and the Birmingham Police Department that we do all we can to curb gun violence in our streets. This collaboration will yield great benefits to our citizens and let them know that they are not forgotten and to let them know that our deepest concern is to build stronger neighborhoods that can prosper and grow,” said Bell, who added that he is committed to providing a safe environment for Birmingham citizens.
If this campaign is to be successful, citizens are going to have to foster a sense of ownership toward their community and fight back against violence, Roper said. “Thanks to the partnership between these agencies and their front-line strategy to reduce violent crimes,” he said, “we’ve seen some progress here in Birmingham, but we all know there is still much to be done.”