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Little Rock officials give update on violent crime reduction strategies

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. addresses members of the public at a Tuesday forum at Philander Smith College, joined by interim Little Rock Police Chief Wayne Bewley (left).
Daniel Breen
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. addresses members of the public at a Tuesday forum at Philander Smith College, joined by interim Little Rock Police Chief Wayne Bewley (left).

Little Rock residents heard an update Tuesday from members of a committee looking at ways to make the city safer.

Members of the city’s HOPE (Holistic Outreach and Prevention in Every Neighborhood) Advisory Council held a public forum in advance of their findings being presented to the Little Rock Board of Directors and Mayor Frank Scott Jr.

In the forum at Philander Smith College, Scott said the city is trending in the right direction in some violent crime indicators, while making less progress in others.

“We’ve seen violent crime consistently decrease. Today we stand with violent crime, I believe, is -6%. Unfortunately, homicides are up 13%,” Scott said.

The city has spent $5.5 million on prevention, intervention and treatment programs in the community, Scott said, and used close to $2 million in funds from the federal American Rescue Plan to study the problem of violent crime among young people.

Interim Little Rock Police Chief Wayne Bewley says his department has made progress in implementing a community violence reduction plan, though recruiting new officers has been a challenge.

“It has a lot to do with how we present ourselves in the community, how we continue to change and adapt to the 21st Century Policing philosophy,” Bewley said. “It’s important that we continue to be open, we continue to be transparent with our internal operations, we continue to be forthcoming with some of the video evidence that’s out there.”

Bewley says the LRPD currently has a class of 10 new recruits, though the next recruit class is trending upward. He says the completion of a new real-time crime center will help the department deal with mental health crises, natural disasters and large gatherings of people at special events.

Assistant Police Chief Heath Helton, also a member of the HOPE Council, said elements of the real-time crime center were used to help apprehend a suspect following a fatal shooting at the CHI St. Vincent North hospital in Sherwood last week.

Toward the end of Tuesday’s forum, audience member Deborah Phillips identified herself as the mother of 40-year-old Alex Stewart, the victim of a Sunday homicide at a home on Greencrest Drive in Little Rock. Phillips and an unnamed woman who said she was Stewart’s sister accused the LRPD of having had no contact with them regarding Stewart’s killing. Bewley and Mayor Scott’s Chief of Staff Kendra Pruitt both offered apologies and promised a follow-up conversation.

Council members also examined ways to tackle the root causes of crime. Michael Sanders with the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety says schools should take a more trauma-informed view of discipline, focusing less on punitive measures like suspensions and expulsions.

“What that does is turn that young person onto the streets, and so then we have a whole new set of problems," Sanders said. "So, we’re looking at referring them to programs like Tendaji that’s operating at Saint Mark [Baptist Church], or creating some meaningful diversion programs, some that really touch and deal with some of the issues that these young people are going through,” Sanders said.

Leta Anthony, commissioner of the Metropolitan Housing Alliance, said the council found more state funding is needed to support mental health services.

“That’s one of the driving forces in our crime situation," Anthony said. "We don’t take into consideration the dollars and how many mental entities have closed because we thought that money was better spent somewhere else. But we need to invest in the behavioral and mental health of our community.”

Mayor Scott says the city continues to take a holistic approach to tackling violent crime with increased police patrols and a focus on prevention, intervention and treatment. He said the city has secured funding to have four social workers working full-time to help support the police and other departments.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.