MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – It is something we have seen more and more of lately in the City of Mobile – a new form of policing. It is called ‘hotspot’ policing.
FOX10 News wanted to know if it really worked to keep you safe.
Within the past few months – just since February 2014 – a handful of hotspot operations have been executed in the city, and MPD Chief James Barber said it is helping keep you safe. FOX10 News crunched the numbers when it came to 911 calls, how the MPD cracks down on these hotspot locations and how the department ensures the process works.
“This is the first phase is taking back the streets,” said Captain John Barber in February 2014, after the first hotspot policing operation.
Chief Barber implemented hotspot policing to help folks living in crime-ridden neighborhoods. One, he believes, will put the bad guys behind bars and clean up the streets.
“The hotspot is nothing more than a geographical location or jurisdiction that has an unusual disproportionate number of crimes. It shows up when we color-code our maps on crime maps with crime density. The more dense you see a crime in the area, the color becomes red and seven deeper red. And so, it looks like little hotspots on a map. That’s why the term hotspot has been used,” said Chief Barber.
“We are certainly looking at some other areas. Obviously we can’t tell you where they are right now. Some of them are areas that people have complained about,” said Major Richard Martin after the February sweep.
They have kept their promise and carried out operations all across the city. The first was on Webb Avenue in February. Then another in Maysville, just two months later – several locations – all hit at the same time.
Chief Barber said the department uses an acronym known as ‘SARA’ to determine hotspots. It stands for Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment. In the scanning phase, officers gather intelligence about the area or individuals they will go after. The analysis phase is just that: breaking down the data gathered. The response is the execution of the operation. The assessment allows officers to follow up with the neighbors to ensure communities are safe.
Most recently, the Mobile Police Department raided one set of buildings at the Peach Place Inn apartment complex off Jeff Hamilton Road. Officers executed search warrants, arresting three people, and seized more than 60 grams of synthetic marijuana, or spice, regular marijuana, crack cocaine and prescription and non-prescription drugs.
Chief Barber calls the apartments a hotspot for crime.
“Part of the scanning – if you can imagine a huge funnel – we take in all that raw data. Then as we drill down into the analysis, we are looking more and more specifically at what types of crimes are occurring, where they are occurring, why the occurred,” said Chief Barber.
There are four buildings associated with Peach Place: two on Leroy Stevens Road, one on Jeff Hamilton Road Extension, and the hotspot location on Jeff Hamilton Road. Since January 2013 until May 2014, the numbers, according to the Mobile Police Department, explain it all: 33 911 calls at one location, 65 at another, 90 at the third. Then a spike: 227 calls for service at 8775 Jeff Hamilton Road, the latest hotspot location.
“The 911 calls do start to drive this whole machine as far as the analysis and the scanning phase goes, so we begin with that raw data,” said Chief Barber.
FOX10 News reached out to the Peach Place Inn for comment, first by phone, then by e-mail. After no response, FOX10 News went to the apartments for an answer. Workers at the complex asked our cameras be turned off and management was notified. Shortly after, the manager talked to our crew off camera and told them she was educated on the number of calls Peach Place received. She did not want to give a statement on camera but gave us one in writing, on behalf of the property owner.
It says, in part:
“We were unaware that Peach Place Inn was classified as a hot spot by the Mobile Police Department based on the number of 911 calls received…According to the information provided the calls were over a period of a year and a half and were as diverse as our guests… Our staff is dedicated to assuring that the guests follow all property rules and abide by the law. We always cooperate with law enforcement when given the opportunity.”
To read the entire statement from Peach Place, click here.
Chief Barber said it is still a work in progress.
“I would say we haven’t completed the first three steps in that area. Peach Place and several other spots that we are working on are still in the response phase,” said Chief Barber.
Back in the first precinct on Webb Avenue, Lt. Roy Hodge said crime has decreased. From February 2014 until May 1 – compared to the same time in 2013 – home burglaries, stolen vehicles, vehicle burglaries, and assaults decreased.
“We develop community relations. Actually getting out and meeting the people that live in that area, finding out what their concerns are, providing assistance for concerns that they have,” said Lt. Hodge.
“The police officers have reached out to us. They started patrolling the area really heavily, they started talking to us. Showing us love. They had a cookout for us one day. It was nice,” said resident Eric Young.
Unfortunately, since Mr. Young spoke with FOX10 News, a few days after, there was a deadly shooting on Webb Avenue.
But police are not giving up.
“The City of Mobile is on the verge of some, really, greatness. In order to get the city of Mobile to where we wanted to be, which is the safest city, we got to refocus our efforts and challenge the organizational mission and challenge the status quo. It’s a progressive idea. It is an idea that is certainly not new. And it certainly makes a lot of sense. And we are seeing results from it,” said Chief Barber.
The Chief also told FOX10 News taking criminals off the streets is just part of solving the problem. Properties like dilapidated homes, he said most times, house the illegal activity the Department is trying to stop. He said he is cracking down on property owners. If houses do not meet the right criteria, he can sue.
Street by street, block by block, the Chief said he will do what it takes to reduce crime in the city as best he can.