The Central Park neighborhood was again the focus Wednesday for the SAFE Team Clean Sweep anti-crime initiative.
The Support Abatement with Fines and Enforcement Team started in 2013 and includes the mayor’s office, the Pine Bluff Police Department, the Pine Bluff Street Department, the Pine Bluff Inspection and Zoning Department, Waste Management, the Jefferson County Clean Team, the Arkansas Department of Community Corrections and other volunteers.
PBPD Chief Jeff Hubanks said that the areas included in the SAFE Team sweeps are selected based on the number of overall calls for service and crime hot spots. He said the officers who make up the PBPD Bike Patrol are a central feature of these sweeps.
“We go in and pay special attention to a designated area,” Hubanks said. “Today we picked up trash as well as downed tree limbs and also checked on abandoned houses. We spoke to people who were outside in the neighborhood and listened to any comments or questions that they had.”
Hubanks said that some of the grant money used for tearing down abandoned houses is being earmarked for the area and the city will be conducting a survey of these abandoned houses.
“The areas where we are able to tear down these vacant houses end up having fewer calls for service,” Hubanks said. “An empty lot isn’t going to conceal criminal activity in the same way that the dark hulk of an abandoned house will. These efforts are a non-law enforcement measure that reduces crime and makes the police department more effective. It also makes the public’s tax dollars stretch further.”
Hubanks said a visit by the SAFE Team in fall 2013 to the Central Park neighborhood produced a documented drop in criminal activity.
“The effort dropped crime significantly in that little area,” Hubanks said. “The effect was immediate.”
Mayor Debe Hollingsworth was pleased with the day’s effort.
“The sweep was a great success,” Hollingsworth said Wednesday afternoon. “We returned to our SAFE Team Alpha location that we started in last year. That first sweep made a huge impact on reducing crime numbers. In order for a sweep to remain successful, we have to go back and revisit the same area periodically.”
Hollingsworth said there are currently two SAFE Team locations, designated Alpha and Bravo.
“The main component of the SAFE Team is its visibility,” Hollingsworth said. “We have our police officers and employees with the inspection and zoning department out conducting enforcement actions. The people in these designated areas see us coming in with the street department and with Waste Management and they see us taking an interest in their area.”
Hollingsworth said that repeat visits to the same area after the initial SAFE Team visit reveal neighborhoods being taken care of more carefully by residents.
“They see us doing it and they take the initiative,” Hollingsworth said. “Actions speak louder than words. They see that we care. When you are stopping and talking to people one on one, you really have a sense of the pulse of what is happening in the community.”
Rev. Matt Weaver of South Side Baptist Church, where the SAFE Team volunteers gathered Wednesday morning to kick-off the day’s work, said his congregation is willing to do whatever it can to improve the lives of Pine Bluff residents.
“The life blood of our church is driven towards the community,” Weaver said. “We want to see our community changed and transformed, and we are happy to be a catalyst for that transformation. Our church grounds are an open door as long as there are no conflicts with church activities. I know that our parking lot has been used by the city as a staging area for the SAFE Team before. We’re more than receptive to it. It’s all for the betterment of the community.”