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Christian police chief sees Satan at work in Birmingham

Homicides rise dramatically

Associated Press
Published on: 08/21/06 Birmingham — Annetta Nunn's office could belong to a preacher: A photo of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. greets visitors, mocha-colored angel figurines fill a bookcase. The baseball cap behind her desk says "God Answers Prayers."
But Nunn isn't a minister — she's the police chief. And she wonders if the fact that she is an outspoken Christian has something to do with the surging murder rate in Alabama's biggest city, where homicides are up more than 25 percent over last year.
Nunn says one thing is certain to happen anytime Christians speak boldly: "Satan is going to attack." So Nunn can't help but wonder if her own actions — singing hymns at the funerals of three slain officers, making speeches and writing articles mentioning God — somehow have made the devil meaner than usual in Birmingham.
A 26-year veteran of the department, Nunn became the city's first black female police chief in 2003. She has improved the firepower of the department by acquiring rifles and additional stun guns for officers, and she worked in the community to bolster neighborhood watch programs.
She also is trying to improve the department's communication with other police agencies, and she has encouraged officers to get involved in the community with volunteer groups.
Critics on radio call-in shows, Internet forums and letters to the editor have called Nunn too soft. They claim the city needs more hard-nosed policing and less Christian rhetoric.
But police Sgt. Allen Treadaway said Birmingham's increasing homicide rate isn't the fault of Nunn, who was appointed by the mayor. City leaders need to provide more money for recruiting and retaining officers and operating task forces to combat problems like drugs, he said.
"We have to have a strategy in place and resources available to take those who are not contributing to society out of society," said Treadaway, president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police lodge.
For Nunn, faith and crime fighting are intertwined.
One of Nunn's first ideas as chief was a Bible-based plan of civic responsibility for cleaning up rundown neighborhoods, and she supports police chaplains who hold revivals in crime-ridden communities.
She talks about the need to lock up criminals, but she also talks of working with pastors to discourage crime and change hearts.
"I do believe we have to get back to God to permanently change a person's behavior," she said in an interview. "We put people in jail all the time. Our stats show we put in over 20,000 people last year. But our prisons are overcrowded, and they come right back here."
Overall, Nunn says, things are improving: The city's total crime rate is down 1 percent this year. But homicides seem out of control, with 72 killings recorded through Thursday compared with 57 during the same period last year.
The killings take a toll on Nunn, a soft-spoken mother of two who used to play a mean shortstop in softball and still attends the same Baptist church where she was baptized at age 8.
In 2004, three Birmingham police officers were shot to death as they entered a drug house trying to make an arrest. She helped their families cope — and gave herself strength — by singing a hymn at the funerals for the men.
"It was the first time I ever sang outside my church," she said.
It was also when she began to ask questions about her own faith and crime.
"There was a point particularly after the officers were killed where I wondered, 'Is it my fault?'" Nunn said. "I wasn't on the scene, and there was nothing I could have done. But [I wondered] if it was as a spiritual attack. I was looking at it that way."
Some answers are hard to come by. And the questions came again this year as the city's homicide rate rose.
A stack of letters offering support rests near Nunn's desk, and she draws strength from people who promise to pray for her.
But she can't help but wonder about the solution to what's going on in Birmingham.
"We've got to enforce the law. But we've got to change people's hearts," she said.


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