BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A veteran Alabama lawman who led the state's department of public safety and Birmingham Police Department has died from complications linked to COVID-19.

Chief William Michael “Mike” Coppage had been fighting the coronavirus for several weeks before succumbing on Friday, AL.com reported. He was 71.

Coppage formerly served as chief of the Birmingham Police Department, director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety, director of Public Safety and Emergency Management at Samford University, and as an Irondale city councilman.

“Mike was not just a great leader but was an amazing public servant. During my tenure as chief, he was extremely supportive and was quick to offer a word of encouragement,’’ said former Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper. “He understood the mantle of leadership and his legacy will live on throughout the metropolitan area.”

Coppage spent most of his adult life in public service, beginning with a stint in the U.S. Army where he was a military police officer and criminal investigator from 1970 to 1974.

Under Coppage’s leadership, Birmingham experienced double-digit reductions in the city’s overall crime during his first two years in office and five years of consecutive declines including a 15-year low in overall crime rates in 2001. In 2003, Coppage was named as the colonel of the Alabama Department of Public Safety. He resigned from his state post in 2006 and returned to Irondale. In 2007, he was appointed to the Irondale City Council to fill a vacancy but did not seek reelection for the seat.

In 2009, Coppage was named director of Public Safety and Emergency Management at Samford University. He remained in that position until his retirement in February 2012.

“He was a mentor and a great leader,’′ said Fultondale Police Chief D.P. Smith, who worked with Coppage for more than 20 years and shared a friendship beyond policing. “You could always go to him when you had problems. He had great direction and ideas on how to serve the public.”

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