On the evening of May 26, 2012, my family packed the bleachers of Bill Harris Arena to celebrate my niece’s graduation. It was a special moment for us. We were overjoyed by my niece’s achievements and grateful for the possibilities life had in store for her. But no one was more proud of her than my brother, Ralph. As my niece walked across the stage to receive her diploma, Ralph’s chest puffed with pride.
The very next night, my brother was murdered in Southtown Housing Projects.
I go back to this painful night every time I hear about another homicide in Birmingham. I think about families that have to stand behind yellow tape as a loved one’s body lies lifeless on pavement. Or the grieving mother who invested everything she had — and everything she didn’t have — just so her child could have a fair shot at a better life.
No family should have to endure this pain, but unfortunately, this scene has become all too common in Birmingham. Violent crime across the city has steadily increased over the last six years, and Birmingham has become a fixture on numerous “most dangerous cities” lists. And, most soberingly, Birmingham recorded 104 homicides in 2016 — a total the city had not reached in over a decade.
Despite the mounting crime rates, our current administration has yet to produce a strategy for reducing crime.
For Birmingham to be the best version of itself, we deserve a mayor that understands it is impossible for a city to thrive when residents do not feel safe in their community.
Reducing crime will be a top priority if I am elected mayor. And my public safety and criminal justice agenda will achieve this by making smart investments in people and engaging local stakeholders.
Investing in people means putting our first responders first and treating them like real heroes. Over the next four years, we must expand the Birmingham police force to 1,000 officers. And to ensure we attract the best candidates, we must raise starting salaries for new officers and restore annual cost-of-living salary adjustments and longevity pay for Birmingham Police and Fire and Rescue personnel — a policy the current administration abandoned.
Investing in people means providing real support to our youth. As mayor, I will expand employment programs through the Mayor’s Office Division of Youth Services and deploy public and private resources to support intensive mentoring, counseling, and job placement services for nonviolent juvenile ex-offenders.
I will present a new approach to criminal justice by expanding our “Ban the Box” employment policy to include companies that receive a contract from the city of Birmingham and work with the city council to adopt a tax credit for local businesses that hire ex-offenders. To further assist formerly incarcerated residents, I will create the Mayor’s Office of Reentry Services to develop and implement wraparound programs aimed at reducing recidivism.
In our effort to reduce crime, Birmingham must also engage local stakeholders. As mayor, I will pursue partnerships with the Alabama Housing Finance Authority and our local colleges and universities to establish homebuyer assistance and tuition reimbursement programs for first responders. I will engage our business and philanthropic community to expand the Birmingham Police Athletic Team program throughout the city and create a foundation that provides continual support for police officers, firefighters, and their families.
I will work with the District Attorney’s Office to launch a community prosecution program focused on deterring low-level crimes through both prosecution and intervention in the lives of juvenile offenders. And I will repurpose recreational centers in various areas of town as “opportunity centers,” where residents can receive intensive job training and placement services.
My public safety and criminal justice agenda requires an all-hands-on-deck approach to execute. This is because crime affects more than just the individual or a victim’s family. Crime also impacts more than just a particular neighborhood or section of town. Crime affects the entire community. High crime rates can deter business, lead to population reduction, and create a negative perception amongst individuals outside the community. Simply put, we are all in this together.
Our current state of public safety may look grim, but I know we are better than the 104 homicides Birmingham recorded last year. I believe Birmingham’s best days are ahead of us. But getting there requires a heightened sense of urgency and real mayoral leadership — not just empty talking points.
Birmingham School Board member Randall Woodfin is running for mayor of Birmingham. Send your Perspectives op-ed submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.