Bessemer, Alabama

Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation

Bessemer, Alabama

Target Area: Southside and Braswell Communities - Population: 26,538

BCJI Awardee: National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives

Research Partner: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Focus Areas: Violent Crime, Felony Theft, Drug-Related Crime

BCJI Funding Year: FY2019

Neighborhood Characteristics

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) identified Bessemer, Alabama, as an area that would benefit from a Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice. The city hosts a high poverty rate of 29.7 percent, and 29.83 of every 1,000 residents experience violent crime, compared to the state-wide rate of 5.24 per 1,000 residents and the national rate of 4 per 1,000 residents. Since the 1950s, most of the city's population has been African American. Out of the 26,538 residents, 69.9 percent identify as African American, 24.4 percent identify as Caucasian, 4.7 percent identify as Hispanic/Latino, 1.2 percent identify as mixed race, 0.2 identify as Native American, and 0.1 percent identify as Asian.

From 1890 through the 20th century, the city was a center for steelmaking, attracting rural migrants from the South, as well as European immigrants. Ore mining has since ended as an industry, but manufacturing remains, with the U.S. Pipe and Foundry ductile pipe plant on the city's north side. The decline of mining and the exodus of the steelmaking and railcar manufacturing industries resulted in an extensive loss of jobs. By the mid-1980s, one-third of the workforce was unemployed. Recently, the city has been successful in diversifying its economy. In June 2018, Amazon announced that it would build a new 800,000 square-foot, $325 million fulfillment center in Bessemer, which will initially create 1,500 new jobs. Although there are significant signs of progress in Bessemer, the reputation for and reality of crime hampers the ability of the community to thrive.

Downtown Bessemer is a designated Opportunity Zone. While certain hot spots of crime exist within Bessmer, the Bessemer Police Department (BPD) identified two public housing communities, Southside and Braswell, as particular areas of concern for criminal activity. Although the housing communities themselves are not necessarily hot spots for crime, the BPD indicates that the housing communities serve as a "home base" for many of the individuals committing crimes throughout the city. This led the BPD to create a police precinct within the Southside Homes Community to improve their relationship with residents and more effectively prevent and solve crimes.

Planning Phase

The NOBLE Innovations in Community-Based Crime Reduction - Bessemer (NICBCR-B) project will undertake a 12-month Planning Phase, during which it will collect baseline data, conduct key informant interviews, and convene diverse focus groups consisting of key stakeholders. At the beginning of the Planning Phase, a cross-sector partnership will be formed to advise and sustain the project. This NICBCR-B Partnership Advisory Board will bring key partners into the project to collaborate, provide essential subject matter expertise, and leverage resources. Partners will include the Bessemer Coalition, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Bessemer Police Department, Bessmer Housing Authority, 100 Black Men of America, National Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, and Movement Forward. Other groups will be included when appropriate, as well as private citizens and community leaders.

This proposal uses community-based participatory research (CBPR) as the methodological framework to determine the community's needs and effective interventions to reduce overall violence, with a focus on deadly encounters. The data collection, analysis, and research required to engage the community to develop mutli-level interventions will be accomplished during a 12-month data gathering phase through a scientifically sound, mixed-methods approach.

The objective of the Planning Phase will be to determine how to advance the overarching project goals of:

  1. Increasing collective efficacy,
  2. Strengthening collaboration between the police and community members,
  3. Reducing violent crime, and
  4. Increasing the overall quality of life for all citizens in the affected community.

Other Key Partners

Bessemer Police Department, Bessemer Coalition, Bessemer Housing Authority, 100 Black Men of America, National Association of Police Athletic/Activities League, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, and Movement Forward

This project is supported by Cooperative Agreement No. 2018-BJ-BX-K035 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions contained herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. References to specific agencies, companies, products, or services should not be considered an endorsement by the author(s) or the U.S. Department of Justice. Rather, the references are illustrations to supplement discussion of the issues. 

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