UAB officers vote ‘no confidence’ in police chief

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December 25 2021 12:00 am

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Police officers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have said they have “no confidence” in Anthony Purcell as their chief.

In a virtual vote held this week, 55 of 59 officers who participated said they do not “have confidence in Chief Purcell’s ability to effectively lead UAB Police and Public Safety Department.” Officers ranked sergeant and below were asked to participate in the vote.

In a letter sent to a UAB administration official Friday, officers outlined their concerns and the results of the vote.

The letter states that UAB officers had a meeting with Chief Purcell on September 9 during which they voiced their frustrations about pay, treatment, and other topics. They said that “poor leadership” on these issues may leave the UAB community at risk.

The first concern mentioned in the letter is pay.

Officers said that during the September meeting, “Chief Purcell was made aware of officers’ disdain with being paid more than twenty percent less than what officers at surrounding agencies and the University of Alabama Police Department pay their officers.” The letter said that at that meeting, Purcell responded by saying “a coach at UA does not make what a coach at UAB makes and neither does a professor.”

They wrote that the chief “was also met with agitation due to his negligence to fight for COVID-19 hazardous pay” for officers. UAB police officers are often the first to make contact with COVID-positive patients, the letter said, but are not compensated for the increased risk.

UAB Police Department was the first agency in the state to have an officer die from coronavirus, the letter said. CBS 42 covered the story of Sergeant Parnell Guyton, who died in April from the virus.

Also cited in the letter was what the officers called “unethical behavior conducted by [Purcell’s] staff members.” You can read the letter in full below.

The letter outlined the ways in which these issues may impact safety at UAB for students and others on campus.

“During September,” the letter said, “the most short-staffed month in recent history, 34 vehicles were broken into in one night. Many of those were student vehicles and the culprit stole several handguns. It is difficult to prevent crimes such as these when the majority of our manpower is limited to serving and protecting the UAB Hospital. Officers that are on patrol are often limited to being reactive instead of proactive in deterring crime on UAB’s campus.”

After expressing their concerns in their meeting with Chief Purcell, officers were told he would bring concerns to university leadership and “get back to the officers.”

“[Officers] expressed how dire the situation was and relayed how urgently things needed to change,” the letter said. “Yet, nearly a month later, they have heard nothing about their concerns… As a result, UABPD officers have come to a place where they have no faith and no confidence in Chief Purcell’s leadership. The vast majority of officers, therefore, believe that he should be relieved of his duties as the Chief of Police at the UAB Police and Public Safety Department.”

In a statement to CBS 42, a representative of UAB said they have confidence in Chief Purcell’s leadership, but that they “take these concerns seriously and will continue to work to address them.”

“We are proud of our fully accredited police department led for many years by Chief Purcell, and UAB Administration has full confidence in his leadership. After almost 40 years in law enforcement including 15 years of service to UAB, Chief Purcell is well respected in the law enforcement community and currently serves as President of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), considered the gold standard in public safety. We have been aware of recent concerns raised by some officers, and roughly half of our ~115 police officers (i.e., 59) cast a vote in a selective virtual ballot process referenced in a letter sent to UAB Administration late this afternoon. UAB Administration and Chief Purcell take these concerns seriously and will continue to work to address them. “

Statement from UAB representative Brianna Hoge

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