Pine Bluff Police Chief Jeff Hubanks said Tuesday that a new initiative the police department started a couple of weeks ago “is going to work and it is going to reduce crime.”
Speaking to the Pine Bluff Rotary Club, Hubanks explained the new Violent Crime Task Force, which was patterned after a successful program in High Point, N.C., that began 17 years ago.
“High Point was a city that was demographically comparable to Pine Bluff,” Hubanks said, explaining that High Point was at one time a major furniture manufacturing hub. Over time, he said, most of those jobs were outsourced, the factories closed and crime increased rapidly.
“Seventeen years ago, they developed a program to get a handle on that crime,” he said. “The chief of police there now was assistant chief 17 years ago when the program started and in Pine Bluff, the average life span for a chief of police is two and-a-half years, so in 14 months, I know what’s going to happen to me.”
The program identifies previously convicted offenders who are then called to a meeting with law enforcement officials and community representatives.
“It starts out with kindness and warming, and telling them we want them to succeed because if they fail, we fail,” Hubanks said. “At the same time, they’re warned that if they re-offend, all the resources that can be brought to bear will be to see that they get the maximum prison sentence possible.”
Hubanks said Pine Bluff has a population of “48,000 or so and there are 202 really bad guys.”
“That number is manageable because I’ve got 153 people (the current strength of the police department) who will put forth the effort to arrest those people,” Hubanks said.
For the first Pine Bluff call-in meeting, nine individuals, all males, all over the age of 18, all on probation or parole and all previously convicted of at least one violent crime, received letters from Hubanks that were hand-delivered by police officers.
“Of the nine that were invited, three wound up in jail and of the six that could have been there, four showed up, ” Hubanks said, adding that the meeting was attended by representatives of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff who offered the men help if they needed a GED, Jefferson Comprehensive Care who offered free health screenings, and Pine Bluff Transit, who offered free bus passes for those needing transportation, as well as private citizens who supported the police department.
“Then I told them we want them to succeed but if they re-offend, we have a Plan B,” Hubanks said.
He said Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter has given his full backing to the program and told those attending that he would pursue the maximum penalty for them if they commit another crime.
“The way we did law enforcement during my entire career is what got us to where we are today and that’s not the best place to be,” Hubanks said.
Asked by a member of the club if substance abuse played a part in the criminal activity of some of those who attended and others in that group of 202, Hubanks said yes.
“Substance abuse is a common thread in most of their stories,” Hubanks said. “There are nine prisons in this area and a 10th one planned and there are only two places where a person can go to deal with addiction issues. I think it should be the other way around.”
As far as the success of the program in other places, Hubanks said 70 jurisdictions are using the program with varying degrees of success.
Regarding High Point, he said that city’s population is back over 100,000 and “last year, they had three homicides.”
“That will be us someday,” he said.