Explore UAB

Written by: Anne Heaney

The UAB Division of Preventive Medicine (DOPM) was awarded a grant from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to reduce violent crime in Bessemer, Alabama and improve relationships between community residents and police officers.

Researchers have completed a one-year planning phase, during which the UAB Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC) gathered data to design an intervention which will impact crime reduction in Bessemer.

Principal Investigator, Lori Brand Bateman, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor in Preventive Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, explained, “The goal of the grant is to partner with the community to design effective strategies that will reduce violent crime and improve police-community relationships.”

Dr. Bateman also added, “We’re looking at the social factors that contribute to violence such as lack of education and poverty. With Bessemer residents as our partners, we are creating programs together at the individual, relationship, and societal levels.”

Dr. Bateman is working closely with the UAB MHRC at every level of the project.

During the first phase of the grant, investigators interviewed community members; law enforcement, civic leaders, community leaders, and victims of crime. Information gleaned from these interviews shaped a preliminary intervention plan.

Community members will have the chance to provide input on the intervention plan during a series of focus groups. That information, paired with guidance from the Partnership Advisory Board comprised of residents and stakeholders in Bessemer, will guide the development of the final intervention plan. With approval by the DOJ, the intervention will begin.

Acknowledging the social factors that can lead to health disparities is key to this initiative.

“People might not realize it, but a person’s social environment plays into their health,” said Tiffany Osborne, MHRC Community Engagement Director. “For example, if people don’t feel safe in their own communities, they are more likely to stay inside.”

Osborne explained that if things like well-lit walking paths and good relationships with neighborhood police officers are in place, then citizens are more likely to get outside and exercise. She added that, “A healthy neighborhood is a productive neighborhood.”

To get the ball rolling on this project, the MHRC, in partnership with Bessemer City Schools, conducted an Early Action Project during the summer of 2021 using the information collected from the individual interviews.

The Law & Your Community program, an internationally implemented training designed by NOBLE for teens, was implemented at a summer enrichment camp at Hard Elementary School to solidify communications between youth and their local law enforcement officers, as well as explain the importance of federal, state, and local laws. NOBLE tailored the program to fit the needs of the age groups represented at the camp.

Additionally, NOBLE coordinated with the Bessemer Police Department to ensure that the campers had non-enforcement engagement with local law enforcement officers by offering opportunities for students to serve alongside officers in a non-disciplinary manner.

The summer camp was funded by NOBLE and the MHRC Young Professionals Board, with support from the Bessemer Building Healthy Communities coalition and Bessemer City Schools.

The Early Action Project proved successful as campers learned ways to increase their ability to stay safe in their community from retired Birmingham Police Department Deputy Chief Henry Irby.

Another successful element of the camp was the creation of a beautiful new mural at a Bessemer public housing community. The mural, which was created by Blank Space Birmingham, was painted by the campers, and unveiled at the end-of-camp celebration.

One week after the celebration, the mural, located at Jess Lanier Manor, was awarded the Bessemer Beautification Award by the Bessemer Beautification Board. Due to the camps’ success, civic leaders are already looking to implement more murals around the city.