A new shepherd in town

If you were to hold very still and listen closely, you might have heard an entire town breathe a sigh of relief on Friday afternoon around 5 o’clock. That’s when Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth announced her appointment of Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks as the permanent head of the agency.

If a relieved sigh did not emanate across the community, it certainly did from the throng of officers who had assembled to watch Hubanks be sworn in to his new job. Unless members of the Pine Bluff City Council decide to attempt something really misguided, this is a done deal. Painful experience has demonstrated their capacity for such acts. Accordingly, we pray they sit this one out.

A much more pleasant raft of experience supports the wisdom of Hollingsworth’s choice. Since Hubanks took the reins of the police department on Jan. 1 of this year, the agency as undergone a whole-cloth reinvention of itself. Some of the manifestations of this reinvention are obvious.

We have a police chief who dares to take direct questions from the public — in an open forum, no less. We have a police chief who supports his organizational vision with verifiable data that he presents with equal measures of alacrity and clarity.

We have a police chief who is visible in the community. He — often with his wife, Barbara, in tow — has been present at innumerable public festivals, concerts, charity events, cook-offs, prayer meetings and funerals.

This presence speaks to an obvious charisma, a capacity for deep empathy and civic pride. He also communicates a vision of hope — not that trite, naive kind of “we hope things get better,” but a hope grounded in systematic efforts to actually address the heretofore intractable problems that none of his predecessors effectively assailed.

Hubanks’ officers have an equally obvious affection for their leader. If over the past nine months there was a persistent worry among the troops, it was less about who might be chosen as chief than who might not. Like the rest of us, police officers want a consistent managerial philosophy. The continuation of this new healthy path gives them that.

Hubanks has also demonstrated a willingness to learn from others. In tackling the local epidemic of violent crime, the new chief has regularly sought the counsel of other agencies and experts. This receptiveness to new ideas is evidenced in the briefings he gives the City Council. We hear terms like “proactive policing,” “evidence-based practices,” “data-driven strategies,” “systematic analysis” and other indicia of a whole new paradigm.

Over the course of the past nine months, Hubanks has championed a wholesale realignment of departmental thinking about the role of police in the community. Rather than reactive crime-fighters and mere referees for squabbles among the citizenry, Hubanks has challenged his officers to think of themselves as problem solvers. To this end, regular in-service training classes on problem-oriented policing have been offered to assist in the transition.

These changes in agency culture and crime reduction strategies have been so profound as to attract national attention. Instead of being known as the shepherds of a killing field, the agency is building a national reputation for innovation and progressive thinking. The fact that crime is down about 14 percent versus this time last year likely has something to do with the notoriety.

We know that his work is not done. Nay, it has hardly begun. It will be challenging. It will be stressful. He will be maligned by detractors. He will make mistakes. He will need our help.

As we collectively wait to see changes yet to come, we heartily congratulate Hubanks. We wish him the greatest success and the most fulfilling experiences as the city’s new top cop.