Councilor Sheila Tyson hosts town hall meeting to address uptick in robberies

By Cody Owens

After a sudden spurt of robberies and break-ins throughout District 6, Birmingham City Councilor Sheila Tyson hosted a town hall meeting to hear from the residents who live in the affected community.

About 100 people sat in the pews at the Woodland Park Church of Christ on Thursday evening to speak about the situation and hear from city officials about possible solutions.

The Birmingham Police Department’s South Precinct Captain Ron Sellers, spoke about the ways in which his officers are approaching the situation. According to Sellers, there have been “12 Part 1 offenses” in the month of January in what he described as “a low crime district.” A Part 1 offense is defined as robberies, burglaries, aggravated assault and violent crimes. The number of these crimes is up from seven that were committed in the month of December 2017.

“This is one of our lower crime areas. So when you see an uptick like this is seems like it’s raining down,” Sellers said. “I’ve talked to some of the victims of the robberies and I talked to the man who was carjacked, he told me, ‘I’ve been living here for 10 years and I’ve never had an issue.’”

Tyson told those in attendance that she is working with the community and law enforcement to reduce the amount of crime throughout the district. But a big part of the issue, starts at home.

“I think it’s really parenting problems that we’re having with some of these children…and I’m not going to say children, these are young adults,” Tyson said, adding that an 85-year-old resident was recently held at gunpoint by a 16-year-old. “If you don’t get to them when they are children, it’s almost too late when they start breaking in to places when they’re 16 or 17. The parents need to be responsible and accountable for some of these actions.”

While Tyson has been in touch with law enforcement, it is not legal for her to direct them to patrol the area more. “When you all call me, I’m putting it in writing and sending it to the mayor, the police department, everybody I can. I’m constantly sending it and calling and reminding them.”

After receiving many calls from her constituents, Tyson said she decided to investigate for herself. “I don’t have anything against Section 8 housing, but I knew we had a lot of people who had just moved from Elyton and Loveman’s Village into behind Aspen Run. I figured it had to be coming from there. I drove out there and found a trail where people were coming in and getting out. The police caught two people who were breaking into cars, but I know there are more than that,” Tyson said.

Birmingham Board of Education President Cheri Gardner shared her own story of someone breaking into her house while she and her family were asleep. “When someone came into our house last year, he came in through the kitchen window while all four of us were asleep,” Gardener said. “He came upstairs. My husband was awake and thought it was one of my son’s friends. This guy had eaten, heated up his food, taken his clothes off and was walking around my house in his boxers…I’m telling you it’s really crazy out there.”

Gardner said the school system is making a concerted effort to make sure students are not skipping school and wandering around on the streets by employing four truancy officers to monitor students who chronically miss class.

One of the audience members, Courtney Davenport, chief probation officer Jefferson County Family Court, said that an increased focus on economic development and job opportunities for young people would go a long way toward stemming crime.

“These young people that come into court talk about how they’re affected by not being able to have things they see on TV or hear about on the radio, materialistic things that young people want,” Davenport said. “So I encouraged our mayor and our city council to get behind efforts that focus on economic development and focuses on opportunities for young people to get jobs so they can buy the things they want and not be put in situations where they feel the need to take something.”

One proposed project that could help provide more opportunities for young people trying to avoid a life of recidivism, Davenport explained, was a potential partnership with the City of Birmingham and the Jefferson County Family Court that would convert the long-closed Elyton Elementary School into the Jefferson County Family Resource Center.

“We found that a number of people have issues with transportation and getting to resources they need,” Davenport said. “If you’re having to go to any type of meeting or event to help a person meet mandates of the court, we find it’s difficult to navigate around the city. We want to create a hub with as many resources as possible that a person might need. The Elyton School is a great place. It’s the birthplace of Birmingham and it’s about a block away from the court.”

Tyson said she is currently working to help implement a block watch program in the neighborhood. “We’re going to make sure neighbors know neighbors. We got to look out for one another. That’s a good place to start.”

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