Police Chief Statement

August 9, 2011 - As directed by Mayor Ron Davis, on July 31, I joined with several national civil rights leaders for a meeting in London, England with British Petroleum Inc. CEO Robert Dudley. As police chief in Prichard, Alabama, I continually work to create a safe environment for the citizens and to pursue those who violate laws or cause harm.

The April 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was an indisputable assault. The perpetrator – the fourth largest company in the world that has spent millions on a public relations campaign highlighting the things it has done to make the Gulf “whole.” The victims – thousands of residents in underserved areas such as our city of Prichard who have been left out of the equation for compensation.

This is criminal, and I am committed to seeking justice for the residents of Prichard. That is why I traveled to England to pursue the perpetrator. Unfortunately, like too many others perpetrators in our society, this one was evasive. Our delegation went to the BP headquarters on two consecutive days. Each time, we were told there was no one on site to meet with us. In other words the perpetrator was eluding the authorities who were there to represent the people.

Even before the spill, many of the residents in Prichard were poor, with a median household income of $23,143, compared to a$51,425 nationally in 2009. The BP oil spill accelerated the gap in income between residents in our community and those in other parts of our state and the nation.
The assault on the Gulf took away not only the regular jobs associated with fishing, shrimping and other industries, it also robbed our city residents of opportunities for supplemental income and their ability to put food on the table.

Before the spill, it was not unusual for retired persons in our community to go out and fish, clean their catches, bag it up and sell it to get a few extra dollars to help pay for their food, medicine and other expenses.

Other people fished regularly so that they would not have to pay the high grocery store prices for food that was nearby in the Gulf.
These opportunities were taken away, leaving our residents devastated. In all of the millions and billions spent to make the BP response to this crisis “look” good, where are the dollars that we so desperately needed in Prichard to make certain that our residents “are” good financially.
Many of those who have been left out of the claims process so far are considered voiceless. Unfortunately, they don’t have highly paid lawyers. Their dollars instead are stretched between power bills and prescriptions, gasoline and groceries.

To make matters worse, BP’s convoluted claims process has made it difficult for many of those with limited education to comprehend. The process has also built mistrust.
In addition to impacting the economy of our area, BP’s exclusion of voiceless people in its claims process has negatively impacted the total quality of life in our city. Crime is up. People who had relied on the Gulf for their livelihood had temporary relief through jobs associated with the clean up. Now those jobs are gone, and many have turned to criminal enterprise to supplement their incomes.

In other words, the April 2010 oil spill is the equivalent of a full-scaled, multi-pronged assault, on the people of Prichard, surrounding areas and the Gulf of Mexico.
If BP really wants to make the Gulf “whole” as it says in its advertisements, it must compensate the thousands of voiceless Americans who have been critically wounded by the April 2010 assault.

We estimate that at least $488 million is needed for Prichard residents and others along the Gulf who are similarly situated.

The time to act on this is now.

The voiceless along the Gulf cannot afford to go another 18 months without compensation from BP. There is no statute of limitation on this crime. It is likely, however, that the harm will compound if the perpetrator does not move quickly to restore those who have been injured. Without that money, we may be forced to further cut services in our city – a fatal blow to a city and a region already critically wounded by an elusive perpetrator.

Jimmie Gardner Chief of Police for the City of Prichard, AL