A Birmingham police officer working security at Church of the Highlands in Woodlawn was shot Sunday morning when he confronted two robbery suspects. A 16-year-old is the accused shooter.
The officer – identified as narcotics Det. John Finke – was hit twice in the abdomen. What was initially believed to be a third wound was a ricochet. He was rushed to UAB Hospital’s Trauma Center by Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service via police escort. Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith said the officer as of 1:15 p.m. was out of his first surgery and in ICU. Finke, who was in uniform but not wearing a protective vest, is listed in critical condition.
Finke has been with the department since 2005. He is a husband and father. His college-aged daughter is en route to Birmingham as are his parents, Smith said.
Two suspects were taken into custody in Ensley. The two suspects in custody are ages 16 and 25. The 16-year-old is the accused shooter.
“Each and everyday we deal with circumstances and it’s very disappointing someone this age would go to such great lengths,” Smith said at an afternoon press conference. “It’s one of those difficult things to take in.”
Smith said the suspects in custody match the description given by the officer and the robbery victims. The robbery victims have positively identified them.
Also, the chief said, a recovered handgun matches the caliber of shell casings recovered at the shooting scene.
Efforts to reach officials at Church of the Highlands were unsuccessful.
The ordeal began at 9:22 a.m. when a report of robbery of two people was dispatched over the radio. “Our officers heard the call as it came out,’’ Smith said. “The officer confronted the suspects and we had an officer-involved shooting.”
Police officers from across the city’s four precincts as well as Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies descended on the scene in the 5400 block of Georgia Road. The U.S. Marshals and ATF also responded to the scene, as did SBI.
“We have a very active crime scene,’’ the chief said, adding that he believes the suspects are hemmed up within the large police perimeter that has been established in Woodlawn. Tracking dogs and SWAT offices also are on the scene.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s State Bureau of Investigation will be investigating the shooting.
Smith said that two people were robbed by the two suspects. Finke was working security for Church of the Highlands’ Woodlawn campus responded to the call and that’s when the shooting happened. It appeared he was alone when he initially confronted the suspects. “He was able to give a description of the suspect, clothing description and things of that nature,” the chief said of the wounded officer.
Smith said it appears from radio transmissions that Finke may have observed the robbery in progress and summoned officers for backup. A 1033- officer needs all possible assistance – was issued.
With the victims’ help, they tracked stolen cell phones taken in the robbery to the parking lot of the Winn Dixie on Bessemer Road in Ensley where the department’s Crime Reduction Team took two people were taken into custody. The victims’ cell phones were recovered, as well as at least one handgun.
“We don’t know if the handgun from this suspect is the gun that shot our officer however we will be doing further testing to determine if this is the suspect involved,” the chief said. “We have a lot of work to do at the scene, a lot canvassing to do to make sure we have all of the information that we possible can and that we’ve obtained video from the surrounding area.”
“We believe we have the right suspects in custody based upon the series of events, the description the officer gave before he went into surgery, the description the victims gave of the suspects involved and the fact they were found in the vehicle described by the officer as well as victims’’ Smith said.
The victims, he said, were possibly walking to church when they were robbed. They are currently being interviewed by SBI agents. Meanwhile the two possible suspects – captured by the department’s Crime Reduction Team – are at police headquarters downtown.
As for Finke, Smith said, “They do have some concerns because he did lose a lot of blood and has been given a lot of blood. We’re praying very hard for him. It’s like pins and needles trying to wait to get accurate information.”
“From what we’ve been able to tell, we believe he was able to return fire,’’ the chief said. “We don’t know if the suspect or suspects were hit.”
“We’re still getting a lot of information in right now. We’re searching for video in the area so we can put that information out.”
Smith said at an early Sunday afternoon press conference that they were holding the blocks-wide perimeter in place. They have recovered several shell casings from the scene of the shooting. Police also are canvassing each home within the perimeter to ensure they obtain a description of what residents saw or heard in the area.
Alabama officers shot in the line of duty in 2019
Smith said that Birmingham police in 2018 and 2019 took 4,000 handguns of the streets of Birmingham. “In most of those instances we did so very safely. But there’s always that one time that one moment where things like this happen,’’ he said. “We just have to do more to be prepared, do more as far as our training, and do more to make sure that our officers are completely alert, completely aware of what is happening.”
“It’s a very scary thing. We’ve endured a lot over the past year and a half with Officer (Cullen) Stafford, Officer (Lucas) Allums, Sgt. (Wytasha) Carter,’’ Smith said. “So we’re doing everything we can to address crime here in Birmingham, address the shootings that occur and confront these armed suspects. It’s a very dangerous job.”
“My heart goes out and I care for every single officer on this department. I want to see them work safely, be supported and make sure that they go home safely each day,’’ the chief said. “We do everything that we can to make sure they are completely trained and prepared for the job that they are sworn to do.”