The fact that there has not been a reported homicide in the city of Pine Bluff in three months wasn’t lost on a group attending the monthly Coffee with the Chiefs program Tuesday morning at the Harmony Baptist Association at 2001 S. Cherry St.
The Rev. Jesse Turner, executive director of Interested Citizens for Voter Registration (ICVR) was the first to bring it up, saying that there have been no homicides since June. ICVR is the sponsor of the monthly event.
In fact, the last two homicides in the city occurred May 27, when Carol Baker, 54, was shot to death on the parking lot of the Lakeview Apartments, and May 28, when Galen Taylor, 66, was struck by a vehicle that left the scene on U.S. 79 south (Camden Road).
Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks said the lower homicide numbers are “no fluke.”
“We’re down by five this year and that’s five families who have not had to bury a loved one,” Hubanks said. “We’re purposefully targeting violent offenders. The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is doing their thing. They’re telling us what we need to do and they’re keeping people in jail so they’re not out here shooting other people.”
Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter was the featured speaker.
“Three years ago, we made the decision that if a person was out on bond and committed another crime, we would ask the judges to revoke that bond,” Hunter said. “If they were on probation and committed another crime, we would ask that the probation be revoked.
“We’ve got a group of bad guys who don’t play by the rules,” he said.
Hunter also noted that “it’s amazing that when police catch a bunch of burglars, the burglaries go down, at least for a while until another group comes along.”
He said he is grateful for being elected and being given the opportunity to be the prosecutor, but the job comes with big responsibilities, including what charges to file in a case, if there are charges, how to resolve cases, and when necessary to take cases to trial “without regard to political connections.”
To do that, Hunter said he follows the “do-right rule,” and explained that as a prosecutor, “my job is not to win every case, but to play by the rules and present the evidence,” and let a jury decide the outcome.
Hunter also said that “there is not a criminal solution to every problem,” adding that “every wrong can’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He said the system is often criticized for perceived unfairness, for example when a person is sentenced to 30 years for selling crack cocaine and 10 years for first-degree murder.
“Every case depends on the facts,” Hunter said, explaining that in the case of a person sentenced to 10 years for murder, “the case was weak, there were credibility issues, uncooperative witnesses, the like.”
He said before a case ever goes to trial, the evidence is examined multiple times, including a review by his office, including bringing all the witnesses in and questioning them.
“A lot of our decisions are unpopular,” Hunter said.
Questioned about the effect that Act 570 will have in releasing people sentenced to prison for Class C and D felonies who could spend only 120 days before being released to electronic monitoring, Hunter said “The ADC (Arkansas Department of Correction) wants to let people out while we’re trying to put them in.”
Hunter also recalled the days before the adult detention center was opened in 2009 when there was no room, and Jefferson County “was spending thousands of dollars sending people to other jails.”
Before Hunter spoke, Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said that when she was campaigning for election last year, one of the main concerns she heard about was public safety, which covers many areas, including police and fire protection.
“We’re known as a first-class city but we want to be known as a healthy first-class city,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of hurdles to jump over and we’ve got to change the mindset, the perception of people outside the city.”
Later, Jefferson County Judge Dutch King also spoke, saying that “when I was young, Pine Bluff was the place to live.
“We can bring this community back,” King said. “The bad guys have had the run of the mill for too long. Their time is over.”