EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series based on an interview with Pine Bluff Police Chief Jeff Hubanks.
For most of his career with the PIne Bluff Police Department, Chief Jeff Hubanks worked out of what is now called the Joe Thomas Public Safety building, which now houses both the police and fire department administrative offices, the main fire station, the police Detective Division and the Evidence section.
The department’s Patrol Division is housed in rented space off Commerce Road while the Crime Scene Unit is located in the old Little Theater building near Lakeside Methodist Church.
Hubanks said the Joe Thomas building “needs a lot of work,” in order to achieve his goal of getting the Patrol Division back there.
“We’re waiting on estimates to see if the bond money is sufficient to do what we need to do,” Hubanks said during an interview Friday. “It’s going to be close.”
He was referring to money set aside from the five-eighths-cent sales tax increase approved by city voters for capital improvements.
“We’ve got to update this building and bring it up to code,” Hubanks said. “There’s a lot of wasted space here.”
His plan is to move the Detective Division, which is currently housed in the basement, to the first floor and use the old District Courtroom. Patrol would go to the basement and use some of the space currently occupied by the Evidence Section, which will move to the old National Guard Armory on North Myrtle Street in what Hubanks said would be expanded space.
The armory also eventually will house the department’s crime scenetTechnicians, and have what Hubanks said would be a “full lab.
“Training could also move out there and have a classroom, and a part of Public Relations could also go out there,” he said. “SWAT could get their truck and gear under cover and it could also be a substation for the bike patrol.”
The department is also expected to have a presence in The Pines mall, but Hubanks is unsure of the specifics.
“We’ve talked to Scott Green (the manager of the mall) and he was going to talk to the owner (Andy Weiner) to see what they were going to offer,” Hubanks said, adding that the presence of a substation would “help the perception of shoppers and increase physical security.”
Shortly after becoming police chief, Hubanks introduced what he called “Problem Oriented Policing,” after he and the command staff came to the decision that “we had been doing it wrong for 25 to 30 years.”
By using the department’s computer system, the staff can identify areas that are “hot spots” for burglaries, incidents of breaking or entering, and the like.
“Now, we don’t send folks in there stopping everything that moves,” he said. “That smacks of profiling and it also lacks direction. Now, we keep doing research, and find out who lives in the neighborhood, and near the neighborhood, isolate where the problems are, and deal with those problems specifically, rather than in a random manner. Random is bad.”
Hubanks said the goal is to “identify the bad actors, go to them, and lean the full weight of the law on them, until they comply, or move out of the area.”
Asked how the “bad actors” are determined, Hubanks said a variety of computer searches are done to indentify, for example, people who have been arrested for three or more felony offenses over the past 18 months, or people who have been arrested for crimes involving weapons or violence.
“We’ve determined that there are about 202 really bad guys,” Hubanks said. “This city has a population of 48,000 or so and we can’t police 48,000-plus but we can police 202 quite easily.
“We know their names, where they live, and we have pictures of them,” he said. “When their vehicles roll wheels, they’re going to get stopped.”
On another subject, Hubanks said Mayor Debe Hollingsworth approached him about the department employing “Stop and Frisk” tactics in an effort to get guns off the streets.
“I was familiar with New York because it had been in the news, and according to a judge there, it had the appearance of profiling, which is bad,” Hubanks said.
He said that checking a person for weapons is not a search, but instead a safety measure.
“The courts have acknowledged that we have a dangerous job and patting down a person for a weapon is permitted,” Hubanks said. “That is what we are doing.”
In order to do that, Hubanks said officers have to have “reasonable suspicion” to believe a person has a gun.
“We’re doing it right,” he said.
“In my time on the job, 28 years, I’ve worked for 14 police chiefs,” Hubanks said. “About every two and-a-half years there has been a new chief and a new direction for the department.
“I’ve been on the job for just over 10 months and we’re just now starting to go in the right direction,” he said. “In January when I came in, things were in a sad state and now it’s November and we can say there is hope. Things are to the point where we can say change is possible.”