Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox condemned a sharp spike in violent crime Wednesday morning as January shapes up to be one of the deadliest months in the area's recent history.

For context on the problem, the multi-agency Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit only investigates around 20 homicides in the county annually and that number has been stable since 2019.

In January alone, the VCU has already investigated five fatal shootings -- and a New Year's Eve shooting that left a 16-year-old dead was only a few minutes away from making it six.

Four of those half-dozen homicides took place in the city of Tuscaloosa, and mayor Maddox spoke on the Steve & DC Show on Townsquare Media Tuscaloosa's 95.3 The Bear Wednesday to condemn killings he described as "tragic and senseless."

Senseless, Reckless, Inhumane

"I can't, obviously, speak on any part of the on-going investigations in any of the three cases that took place in the city, but it's certainly just soul-crushing all the way around," Maddox said. "We just came off of a year where we had major reductions in violent crimes and to see what's happened in the first 17 days certainly doesn't mirror what's happened in the previously 12 months."

While shedding light on several incidents, including the double homicide in Fosters, Saturday's midday homicide and the death of a Birmingham woman shot and killed on The Strip, Maddox said all of the incidents could have been avoided.

"I think what bothers me the most is, there's never any reason to take anyone else's life. So many times in these cases, it its absolutely unbelievable what provokes people to pull out a firearm or semi-automatic weapon and takes someone else's life. It's senseless, it's reckless and inhumane," Maddox said.

Maddox said a Sunday morning murder involving former Alabama men's basketball player Darius Miles hit close to home for him both literally and figuratively.

"The other night, the shooting that took place off Gray Street was 200 yards from where my daughter lives," Maddox said. "It's senseless and there's nothing good you can say. The young lady that was killed had a five-year-old."

"We All Have to Play a Role"

Maddox said last year's data regarding violent crimes showed "amazing work" that has been done by local law enforcement and commended the work of local agencies, including the Tuscaloosa Police Department, for their efforts to keep Tuscaloosa safe.

"I don't think the first 17 days are going to reflect the entire year, in fact, many of our issues aren't from here, they get transported in," Maddox said. "I am really pleased with what they are doing but whether it's one homicide or 15, they're all tragic, they're all senseless and we want to work every single day."

"There's only so much government can do. We can put law enforcement out there, we can create education programs, but a lot of these issues are issues of heart and family," Maddox said. "I think those are issues beyond what our job description should be. Those are things that we, as individuals, we just got finished with Martin Luther King Day, and life's most urgent and persistent questions should be 'what can we do more for others?' I think we all have to play a role in trying to do more so that our young people, especially our young people, don't resort to senseless gun violence when they may feel disrespected."

Keeping The Strip Safe

Maddox said the city has been in talks with the University of Alabama to find ways to ensure safety is a priority on its campus and the nearby Tuscaloosa Strip.

"The University is the sun of our social solar system, our economic solar system, it is ingrained in the fabric of this community and it's also the highest density area of population," Maddox said "You have 20,000 to 30,000 people living within about eight blocks. You certainly want to keep that area safe. We have been having productive discussions with the University. We already have a very large police presence out there."

Maddox and other city leaders see packed-out bars in the area as part of the problem, and he said some local businesses are disguising themselves as restaurants during the day so they can have a much higher-than-normal occupancy limits when they turn into a bar at night.

"If I have a restaurant liquor license, after a certain time of the day, I can morph into a bar and remain under that restaurant liquor license and the moment I morph into a bar, my occupancy is allowed to grow exponentially. Under state law, the city can only grant the license, we have no ability to retract the license. One of the things I'm certainly looking at is, if you come in and say you are a restaurant, how do we hold you to that occupancy."

Maddox said he believes the issue will be corrected soon and the city is working with the Alabama legislature to make that happen.

"You have a lot of places in Tuscaloosa, not just The Strip, that masquerade as a restaurant but they're really a bar and are protected by the state," Maddox said. "We're not tolerating this, we never tolerated it, but certainly this has become hyper-sensitive and we're going to be looking at a broad range of action."


Final Takeaways

Maddox said one silver lining is that in each case so far this year, suspects have been identified and arrested very soon after the homicides were committed.

"In a couple of these cases, arrests were made in mere minutes and that's because you had police access in and around the area," Maddox.

Maddox said with unprecedented access to information on social media, it can easily feel that Tuscaloosa is becoming a dangerous place, but he said really, violent crime is not as prevalent as it was before he took office in 2005.

"I understand why someone would feel that way, but the facts don't show that," Maddox said. "You wouldn't have the amount of investment in our community if that were the case. The people who loan money, invest money, who grow the economy wouldn't do that but the thing I want to get across is that I live here, my parents live here and my daughter lives here. Having a safe community, making sure you're safe, our family's safe, it's all we think about every single day."

Maddox assures city leaders and local law enforcement will continue to work tirelessly to create and address safety concerns and make the necessary investments to improve violent crime.

"We're going to do everything within our power to make sure that happens and we're going to continue to do everything possible. With TPD, with what Chief Blankley has come and done within the past year and a half, it has made a huge difference in violent crime in our community and its going to continue to make huge dents in violent crime."

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