City leaders say the Pine Bluff Crime Advisory Commission, which is made up of volunteer Pine Bluff residents, plays a critical role the the city’s efforts to reduce the crime rate.
The commission is made up of nine residents nominated by each of the eight Pine Bluff City Council aldermen according to the wards in which they live, with one commissioner nominated by the mayor. Four vacant seats were filled at Monday’s council meeting.
“The commission has played a large role in helping the department to get a bit more stewardship and accountability on the part of some landlords who operate apartment complexes here in town,” said Pine Bluff Police Chief Jeff Hubanks.
Hubanks said the commission’s monthly meetings provide the police department with valuable information that, in many cases, the officers don’t have time to collect on their own. He said the commission is extremely useful in helping the department to formulate strategies for combating crime.
Hubanks said that it is easier for the crime commissioners to make contact with absentee landlords than for police officers to do so.
“There’s less tension when the commissioners make the call as opposed to one of our officers,” Hubanks said.
Hubanks said that the St. John’s apartment complex at 26th Avenue and Indiana Street is a prime example of successfully bringing landlords into the process.
“Back in early 2013 when we began our hot spot initiative, St. John’s was getting constant calls for service,” Hubanks said. “We had three officers respond, two to investigate the incident and one to guard the vehicles. But once we got the landlord to start vetting potential residents better and they put up a key code access perimeter fence, the calls were reduced to almost none.”
Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth praised the work of the commission.
“To me, the crime advisory commission is an extension of the police department and of city government,” Hollingsworth said. “They go out and talk with people in the community and bring reports to us that have their findings. I think they are a vital component to what we are trying to do.”
Hollingsworth said that the city has been working with the crime commission to create a legal form that would grant police officers the right to go onto a landlord’s property and order loitering non-residents to leave the property.
Commissioner Jean Painton is also the president of the Jefferson County Landlord Association.
Painton said that her dual roles have allowed her to work with her fellow rental property owners to find ways to reduce crime on their properties.
“Just because you are a landlord doesn’t mean you know that the police have been called to your rental property,” Painton said. “I am under the assumption that they would want to know this. So we are working to have a system where a letter is sent to the landlord after a police call to their property.”
Painton said that if calls for service continue to come from the rental property in question, the landlord will be asked to talk with the mayor about the issue. Painton said that she expects her fellow rental property owners to do something about tenants who continually have the police called to their residence.
The Rev. Jesse C. Turner — a commissioner and executive director of Interested Citizens for Voter Registration Inc. — said that the commission’s job is not just to help find ways to reduce crime but to figure out how to maintain the lower crime rate once it is achieved.
“Our role is to offer any suggestions that we think would be helpful to the police department,” Turner said.
Turner said that he and several other commissioners are Neighborhood Watch members and that this connection allows the commission to gather input from others with the same goals of lowering crime.
“We try to come up with ways to bring like-minded groups together to have a real impact on crime in our city,” Turner said.
Thom Brown — nominated by Ward 3 Alderman Bill Brumett — has been serving on the commission for several years, with his term expiring in 2015.
Brown said that the goal of the commission is to find ways to reduce Pine Bluff’s crime rate.
He said the group is currently working with the Jefferson County Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association to pinpoint apartment complexes that receive more than 25 calls for service per month.
“We are trying to get in touch with these landlords, most of whom do not live in the area, so that we can get their cooperation in coming up with ways to combat the high rates of crime in these areas,” Brown said.
Those appointed to the commission at Monday’s city council meeting were Eddie L. Harris Jr., Sherman Dickerson, Nathaniel Todd and Kevin Lamar Reese.
Harris was nominated by Ward 1 Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr, Dickerson by Ward 4 Alderman George Stepps, Todd by Ward 2 Alderman Charles Boyd and Reese by Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth.
The commission meets at 9 a.m. the fourth Thursday of the month immediately after the SAFE Team meeting in the mayor’s conference room.