Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series based on an interview with Pine Bluff Police Chief Jeff Hubanks.
Anyone who expected to see wholesale changes within the Pine Bluff Police Department after Jeff Hubanks was named the department’s permanent chief on Oct, 4 was off target.
Hubanks, who had served as the department’s interim chief since Jan. 1, said Friday he wants “essentially more of the same,” from the police department.
“The success that we’ve had so far is a clear sign that what we’re doing is right and we’re on the right track, and we still have some more things in the bag to bring out and do,” Hubanks said. “In the last staff meeting, we were talking about this. What’s happened so far, it’s an affirmation that we’ve made good decisions and we’ve started off in the right direction.”
Hubanks, who had retired as PBPD lieutenant, was appointed as interim chief on Jan. 1, shortly after Mayor Debe Hollingsworth fired former chief Brenda Davis-Jones on the mayor’s first day in office.
Hubanks said that when he assumed the position, he met with the command staff, including the assistant chief, deputy chiefs and other department officials, to assess where the department stood and what direction it should take,
“We all came up with a similar road to travel to get to where we needed to be and reduce crime, to deal with it, and we were all in agreement that basically we had been doing it wrong for 25 to 30 years,” Hubanks said. “We were all in agreement that that kind of law enforcement helped get us where we were then, and it wasn’t in a good place, it wasn’t working, so we had to change it up, do it different.
“You’ve heard the term, when the inmates run the asylum it usually means things are out of control and chaotic, but in this case, I would argue no, we know what was needed,” he said.
Asked to expand on “what was needed,” Hubanks said it was an approach that was “very employee-oriented.”
“An employee oriented culture is the way I would term it,” he said.
“It goes back to the mechanics of how a successful company works,” he said. “I did some day trading when I was retired. I’ve played the stock market since the ’90s, so I was in the habit of studying and seeing what successful companies do. Without exception, the successful blue chippers all have an employee-oriented culture in their business model. They take care of their people, and especially so in our case. Our number one item on our budget is payroll. That’s our big ticket and if you take care of your largest investment, you get a large return.”
Taking care of the department’s staff meant being sure those officers had the knowledge to be successful, and that meant a renewed emphasis on training.
Hubanks said that when he took over as chief, there was one officer assigned to the department’s Training Division. There are now three.
“Every initiative we’ve brought out meant officers had to be trained in that initiative — mandatory training,” Hubanks said, going on to explain that the various shift commanders had to balance their shifts to allow officers to attend the training and at the same time ensure that there were sufficient officers on the streets to do the job,
Hubanks said that investment not only helps to reduce the possibility of lawsuits, it also helps to retain the public’s confidence in the department.
In addition to the renewed emphasis on training early on, Hubanks also reassigned some officers to jobs that suited their experience. One of the first of those reassignments was moving veteran Lt. Terry Hopson back to the detective division, where he had worked for a number of years before being reassigned as a shift commander in the patrol division by Davis-Jones.
Hubanks said that because Hopson had worked for a number of years as a detective, he had developed contacts all throughout the country with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
“The thing about it is, Terry had worked as a patrol supervisor before and he was very good at it but the loss to the detective division was incredible, and I would argue, it was a personal attack on Terry,” Hubanks said.
The department’s patrol division currently works 12-hour shifts, a practice Hubanks said will continue after a poll of officers voted in favor of them. Davis-Jones instituted the 12-hour shifts shortly after she was named chief in June 2010. The move drew heavy criticism at the time.
“We can always revisit that if it becomes necessary but most of the officers like the 12-hour shifts,” he said.
On another subject, Hubanks talked about the bicycle patrol, which he referred to as a “P.R. machine.”
“Everybody loves to see them,” he said. “When the bike patrol started in the ’90s, it worked really well. There was one officer who was assigned to a high-crime area and basically shut down neighborhood burglaries.”
The officers assigned to the bike patrol will finish their training at the end of this month, then be broken up into teams to work specific areas. Hubanks said the department is already considering sites for bike substations
There is one site already available in the Dollarway area, two more on the east side of town, and the Westside Neighborhood Watch Association has proposed a location in its area. The former National Guard Armory on North Myrtle Street is also a possibility, and Hubanks said finding a location in the Shady Grove area “should be fairly easy.”
The creation of the bike patrol meant that officers had to be pulled from patrol, detectives and vice, leaving those divisions short, but Hubanks said supervisors have been able to work around that.
“They’re very effective, their (arrest) numbers are high, and people like them,” he said of the bicycle officers.
Hubanks has frequently said that the current department is a “very young department,” citing numbers that indicated 50 officers left last year for a variety of reasons.
“That was one third of the department,” he said. “We’re at 153 (officers) now and that means 33 percent of them are new. It costs money to train and equip police officers and while new officers have a one-year probationary period, it really takes about two years to make a really good, highly functioning police officer. Whenever somebody leaves, it leaves a hole.”
For a number of years, the department served as a training ground for other departments, with new officers working for a year or two, getting their state certifications, then going on to other departments where the pay is better.
“More money has been a problem my entire career,” Hubanks said. “We’re one of the lowest-paid police departments in the state and we have one of the highest compensated city councils in the state.”
(Next: Hubanks talks about facilities, including the Joe Thomas Public Safety Building, the National Guard Armory and the Pines Mall, problem oriented policing, stop and frisk, and his own future.)