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Little Rock officials introduce violent crime reduction strategy

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City of Little Rock
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Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. (at the podium) announces a series of programs aimed at reducing violent crime in Little Rock.

Little Rock city leaders are taking steps to try and stem a rise in violent crime that coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a news conference Wednesday, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. introduced a violence reduction strategy. He said the city is not alone in seeing a substantial increase in violent crime. Most, Scott said, have been the result of domestic-related issues.

In particular, the mayor noted there has been an increase in shootings.

“Each time it angers me,” Scott said. “Each time when we know it's a senseless death, it saddens the city. It saddens everyone around because we understand the impact when you lose a loved one, and there’s nothing like when you call a mother or father and you’re dealing with the loss of their child.”

Scott said he was horrified to learn about an incident last week at Central High School. A shooting near the campus prompted the school to be put on lockdown, with bullets impacting the building in two locations, breaking a classroom window and striking near where students were eating lunch outside.

“Whether it was Central High School or Park View Arts and Science Magnet School, it does not matter. We should never have to deal with a shooting or shootings near a school in the City of Little Rock,” he said.

Scott said city officials can’t control when someone has access to a gun, but can control what’s being done to be proactive and preventative.

Over the last few months, Scott said the Office of Executive Administration, the Little Rock Police Department and the Department of Community Programs have been working to envision and execute a comprehensive strategic plan that will make the community safer.

The city’s Board of Directors recently approved using $1.5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to provide the police department with more resources. The department has been struggling lately with a shortage of officers and vacancies that have gone unfilled.

The mayor said the city will be doubling a $5,000 recruitment bonus to $10,000. He also said a staffing study is underway and should be complete by next year. It will provide guidance on department needs and how to address them, Scott said. That will include pay raises for current officers.

“For the 2022 budget, an additional step increase for officers [will] ensure they are getting necessary raises to retain our officers,” Scott said. “We will work to ensure our officers have what they need to protect and serve each of us.”

Police Chief Keith Humphrey said since May, violent crime has been reduced, “through the hard work of our officers and community involvement.”

He said the department is committed to removing all illegal guns and violent criminals from the streets of Little Rock. To date, Humphrey said officers have removed over 600 illegal weapons and arrested over 400 people who had been in possession of illegal weapons.

The city’s strategy will include increasing police visibility, identifying areas where violent crimes are occurring and increasing surveillance activity, Humphrey said.

The police chief and mayor also said the city will offer more resources like employment for at-risk youth and re-entry services for people getting out of prison.

“In order for this plan to be effective there must be active participation, cooperation and investment by everyone in this city,” Humphrey said.

Mayor Scott also announced the city will create an Office of Neighborhood Safety which will develop targeted programming to reduce violent crime. It will be led by Community Resource Manager Micheal Sanders.

“We know that these have been some challenging times and residents are in need of support,” Sanders said.

He said the city offers afterschool and out of school programs for youth between the ages of 6 and 17, and youth employment for those between the ages 16 and 21. There are also school-based interventionists who provide referrals and support for students in need.

“With this new funding we are looking to expand those efforts to add at least two additional interventionists to offer support at our other high schools,” Sanders said.

He noted there is a community partnership with Restore Hope Arkansas and a grant was written last year partnering with Our House. In addition to those programs, Sanders said they are looking to offer additional opportunities in the form of requests for proposals.

Vendors will be able to propose programming and services that they believe will help stop the violence, Sanders said, as part of a day labor contract.

“We found that we come in contact with individuals in need of services, in need of work, but they’re not able at this point to go through the background checks and drug screening,” he said. “We want to provide opportunities where we can employ individuals that day and get them paid on a daily basis.”

Sanders said they are looking to include additional community-based intervention.

“In those contracts, those individuals will be identifying, engaging, recruiting and referring residents ages 16 to 30 who have found themselves disconnected from jobs, careers, school, housing,” Sanders said.

Officials are hoping cases of COVID-19 will continue going down, which will enable the city to reestablish community engagement efforts in the form of block parties and midnight basketball games. Sanders also wants to make career crash course programs available providing opportunities for computer training, digital literacy, gaming design and getting commercial driver’s licenses.

Mayor Scott said he hopes the city will be awarded more grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to further their efforts.

Maddie Becker was an intern with KUAR News while a student at UA Little Rock in the School of Mass Communications.