The Birmingham Police Department and the curious case of unanswered questions

burglar thief

My home burglary story isn’t different than most — while my house was unattended someone broke in through a back window, stole a television and some liquor and left unnoticed. The situation was not necessarily newsworthy, but the experience has opened my eyes to bigger questions about the Birmingham Police Department, its response to crimes, and to the priorities of funding by the city council.

This week, the Birmingham City Council will pass its annual budget. In it you’ll find $92,974,535 allocated to the Birmingham Police Department. But the question is, is that enough to fund the functions residents expect from local law enforcement?

Going back to my specific case, my expectations for the time and effort that would go into solving it were pretty low. Nearly two decades ago, I logged enough hours at my local police department in its crime prevention and criminal investigation units to allow me to attend to college on a community service scholarship. But the time I spent with them didn’t stop once I went to college. There, I continued to volunteer working an operation to do underage buys for the local PD and the state.

Needless to say, the respect I have for officers has never wavered. It is an honorable profession that’s overwhelmingly staffed by honest, trustworthy men and women who unjustly see every bad seed and every bad deed unfairly cast upon them as a reflection of them all.

That said, I’ve been vexed for months that despite the fact I did the legwork for the detective, he never did the follow up. Case and point: I provided three phone numbers of possible witnesses and none were called. I provided the address of a neighbor who thought she may have seen the vehicle of the suspect and she was never contacted.

The detective said he would send officers to do drive by’s of my residence as I was anxious about the break-in. He said they’d leave “morning cards” to say they were there.

That never happened.

I didn’t get one card — and when a home video security system was installed, not once did it pick up a police car in my driveway (though I do have a lot of respect for the newspaper delivery guy who comes like clockwork between 4-6 a.m.).

After 90 days I decided to inquire formally to try to make sense of what went wrong in hopes I could shed light on a bigger problem, if one exists. That’s where things really took a turn and I learned that it wasn’t just the investigator who was non-responsive, the public information officer wanted nothing to do with the story including giving me requested crime statistics and budget information (Alabama Today will be filing an official public records request for said information.).

According to an AL.Com story by Carol Robinson, the FBI listed Birmingham as the fifth-highest city in the nation for crime. You don’t need to go any further than your evening news or morning paper to see that violent crime is a significant problem for our area. No reasonable person would think that a lot of manpower would be dedicated to something outwardly as trivial as a burglary, no matter how emotionally stressful it is for the homeowner to know strangers have invaded their space.

I inquired with both the detective assigned my case, Det. James Canino, and the public information officer (PIO), Lt. Sean Edwards, and the response I received was nothing short of mind boggling and short on answers  —apparently a common theme for Birmingham Police Department, in my personal experience.

Note, I was simply asking basic questions about the investigation (or more appropriately lack of investigation) into the break-in of my home and for information that could help me understand if the challenges I encountered were something that had a deeper cause.

I asked the PIO what is the “investigation standard processes, case loads, budget issues, or other facts that may help me explain how a case as simple as this wasn’t investigated at all? Also, can you please provide the number of burglaries for 2016 to date and of those the number that led to arrests?”

Here’s the initial response I got back from Lt. Edwards, “This case has been thoroughly investigated by a burglary detective. There is nothing else to report at this time. I will not be making any comments regarding this case.”

My hypothesis was that I’d find a lack of resources for non-violent crimes. It seems as though you can’t open up a single news source these days and not read about a violent crime, but I can’t go so far as to even reach that conclusion because the officers involved are too busy to tell me that they’re too busy to help or investigate.

I’m now more sure than ever that the Birmingham Police Department has more departmental problems than it has investigations cases not being investigated. The question is — what’s the cause and who’s to blame for the situation? Since Lt. Edwards doesn’t feel he needs to answer my questions as a crime victim or editorial writer, I intend to take my search to the mayor, council, and police chief directly.

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