Birmingham mayoral candidates respond to police union's historic no-confidence vote in chief

Several of Mayor Randall Woodfin’s opponents say the vote shows the city needs a change in leadership


By Carol Robinson
al.com
        
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Several candidates in the upcoming Birmingham mayoral election on Thursday weighed in on the historic Fraternal Order of Police vote of no-confidence against Chief Patrick Smith and Assistant Chief Darnell Davenport.

While Mayor Randall Woodfin has not, in his capacity as mayor, publicly responded to the FOP vote, a spokesperson for the Woodfin for Mayor campaign issued this statement Thursday night:

“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.”

“We are facing an unprecedented crisis as the city descends to a desperate and fragile condition. If the police can’t trust it’s leadership, who can?’' said former mayor and current mayoral candidate William Bell.
“We are facing an unprecedented crisis as the city descends to a desperate and fragile condition. If the police can’t trust it’s leadership, who can?’' said former mayor and current mayoral candidate William Bell. (Carol Robinson)

The first sentence of the statement refers to a petition signed by eight Birmingham officers that was dated May 25 and delivered to the FOP Headquarters requesting a special called meeting to both endorse Woodfin for mayor and issue a vote of confidence in Smith.

Instead, the executive board and board of trustees issued the no-confidence vote.

Officer Victor Langford on Thursday sent out a letter, speaking on behalf of those whose signed initial petition, asserting that FOP executive board makes efforts to “silence the body in pursuit of the political agenda(s) of the individual members of the Executive Board.”

“Instead of setting the special call meeting as requested, the Executive Board chose to resort to their pattern of back door politics to subvert the vote of the body,’' Langford wrote. “The members of the body want an opportunity to be heard without the continued efforts of the Executive Board to suppress their voice and vote.”

The names of those who signed the initial petition were redacted in the letter Langford issued.

FOP attorney Liz Young said the second page of Langford’s letter, which was the initial petition, was delivered to the FOP headquarters by a member of the mayor’s security team.

“We have strong information that this document originated from and was facilitated by city hall,’' Young said. “This was nothing more than an illegitimate attempt to undermine and sabotage the FOP’s process after the chief and mayor were made aware of the vote.”

“It is important to note that the document specifically asked not only for a vote of confidence regarding Chief Smith, but also an endorsement for Mayor Randall Woodfin who is seeking re-election,’' Young said.

“The Board of Directors and the Board of Trustees stand by the legitimacy of the vote,’' she said. “If the administration spent half as much time working to resolve the real issues and less time trying to discredit its officers, Birmingham would be a better place.”

Several of Woodfin’s opponents say the vote shows the city needs a change in leadership.

“We are facing an unprecedented crisis as the city descends to a desperate and fragile condition. If the police can’t trust it’s leadership, who can?’' said former mayor and current mayoral candidate William Bell. “We can’t just stand by and watch our citizens suffer. Afraid of crime, afraid of the police, our citizens have no one to turn to for help.”

“The mayor and police chief are pointing fingers at each other for lack of support, while our citizens are being shot and killed every day. His administration is begging outside law enforcement agencies to come and do the job we hired them to do,’' Bell said. “As your mayor, my goal will be to restore trust and confidence in the office of Mayor and appoint a Police Chief who will listen and respond to the people of Birmingham.”

Lashunda Scales, Jefferson County Commission President Pro-Tem and mayoral candidate said, “At a time when citizens are afraid of frequent violent crime incidents in neighborhoods across the city, while officers are losing confidence in the police chief’s ability to provide effective strategies to reduce Birmingham’s trending crime rate is very concerning.”

Another mayoral candidate, Darryl Williams, said Smith should have been fired a long time ago: “You got to know Birmingham. You wouldn’t get a blind man to paint your house, would you? So you’re going to get a blind police chief?”

“This administration has continued to run on no transparency,” said mayoral candidate Cerissa Brown. “Perfect example is the current Mayor has been silent in speaking about this issue with his selected Chief of Police. As your Mayor, I will ensure that an effective, transparent and community first leader will be appointed Chief of Police.”

AL.com has reached out to another mayoral candidate, Birmingham businessman Chris Woods, a former Auburn University football player who also played in the NFL, but received no response.

Police chief rejects vote

The unanimous vote was issued Wednesday night by FOP’s Lodge #1′s executive board, which is made up of the organization’s elected officers, and the board of trustees, which is made up of 12 members.

The FOP Lodge #1 consists of between 1,350 to 1,400 members - 80 to 90 percent of those from Birmingham’s force. The vote was not carried out by the full membership, but the boards voted consistent with feedback they’ve received from the membership.

“Both boards unanimously voted, and hereby formally issue, a vote of no confidence regarding Chief Patrick Smith and Assistant Chief Darnell Davenport,’' Young announced. “The FOP membership has no confidence that either are competent to lead the department and this community.’'

A vote of no-confidence is symbolic only, but it can be seen as a powerful message that the membership has lost faith in the department’s leadership.

The no-confidence vote, believed to be the first in the history of the city, cited a spike in violent crime, as well as an unprecedented low in morale among the rank-and-file during Smith’s three-year tenure.

“Both boards unanimously voted, and hereby formally issue, a vote of no confidence regarding Chief Patrick Smith and Assistant Chief Darnell Davenport,’' Young announced. “The FOP membership has no confidence that either are competent to lead the department and this community.’'

Smith and Davenport told AL.com Wednesday night they reject the no-confidence vote.

Smith said during his tenure, overall crime – except homicides - is down.

As for allegations of harassment or disparagement of officers, Smith said, “Absolutely not. That doesn’t exist and it hasn’t occurred.”

“This vote does not represent the membership of this department. It represents some retirees who are not here. This vote represents some individuals who simply have a bone to pick,’' Smith told AL.com. “Their argument is lame.”

Davenport, responding to allegations that said many veteran officers have left the department because of their leadership, did so because they didn’t want to deal with higher standards being set by the new administration.

“We are not going to lower our standards and allow people, especially on our command staff, to come to work and not be fully engaged,’' he said.

“The chief and I, we’ve given our hearts to this job. We’ve tried our best to correct some wrongs. We’ve tried our best to hold people accountable and the end of the day we are trying to make sure this a police department that is accountable and responsive to this city,’' he said.

“It’s unfortunate the FOP would do what they’ve done when the only thing we’ve tried to do is make this department better.”

The mayoral election is August 24.

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