By Ingrid Howard
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, which also means that retail crimes are about to increase as holiday shoppers feel pressure to provide gifts for friends and family.
In the Birmingham metro area, Sheriff Mike Hale has found a way to more accurately predict the next crime and give officers tools to intercept crimes.
It started when former President George W. Bush set up fusion centers and joint terrorism task forces to 97 district attorneys across the nation during the War on Terror. Hale had conversations with deputies in Nevada who had fusion centers where they could come together and discuss crime trends.
Hale was interested in bringing something like this to the Birmingham area, but he first had to lobby for a new records management system in the police departments.
“And a records management system is the key to how all of this works,” he said. “Because for years, since the late ‘70s, we’ve been reporting data on hard copy reports.”
Finally, in 2016, the Metro Area Crime Center opened up in downtown Birmingham. Deputies from 20 agencies work together to solve local crime.
Each deputy knows the trends specific to his or her city. For example, the Hoover representative can provide information about the Galleria to help curb retail crimes there this holiday season.
“We would touch base with our Hoover representative, and he can tell you the seasonal problems they’ve had, and that would be a great starting point,” Hale said.
The team at the MACC can then decide when the best time would be to place a security camera at the Galleria and where the best location would be to place it. These cameras run nonstop, and the video feed can be seen on one of the many screens that fills a wall at the MACC.
“The Galleria has unique challenges, and they know where the pressure points are,” Hale said. “Brookwood Mall has the same thing. … We have the ability to put that crime camera up, feed it here and monitor it 24-7.”
Mountain Brook Police Chief Ted Cook was able to use the MACC to help solve a string of burglaries.
“We had a little piece of information, a little part of a description of a person, and a little part of the description of the vehicle,” he said.
When the Mountain Brook detective took that information to the MACC, another detective had information about a similar car.
“When the individual pieces all came together, it led to some suspects and wound up clearing cases in multiple jurisdictions,” Cook said. “Had we not had something like MACC where all of those detectives from all of those different agencies were there to contribute, I don’t know that we would have made that case.”
Each agency has a different piece of the puzzle, Hale said. When the 20 deputies come together, they can see the complete picture.
“It would be easy to say, ‘We’re just going to worry about Homewood or Vestavia or Mountain Brook or Alabaster,’” Hale said. “But they’re all interrelated, because the criminals have always known what the jurisdiction lines are, and they’ve used that against us.”