The efforts of a number of city agencies and departments working together in a specific area to turn it around is working, according to Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks.
Since early March, police, fire department, inspection and zoning and Waste Management personnel have targeted the area between South Olive and South Cherry streets from West 23rd Avenue to West 28th Avenue for a major face lift, targeting abandoned vehicles and buildings, zoning and code violations, as well as working to reduce crime. Hubanks said that work is starting to pay off.
“The area is cleaner and we’re seeing calls for service going down,” Hubanks said. “We’re going to do one more walk through to apply a little TLC and then let the Neighborhood Watch groups take over.”
Hubanks said he hopes the effort will spread to other areas, and in fact, the department is currently working with the Rev. Milton Jenkins on the east side of the city on a similar program.
On another subject, Hubanks said he is considering reducing the number of patrol zones in the city from six to four, with each zone representing the boundaries of the city’s four wards.
“They’re roughly even in population and if we make the change, it will be easier for the members of the council to see what’s happening in their wards,” he said.
Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth has asked all city departments to try and reduce their expenditures for the rest of the year and Hubanks has come up with proposals that will cut his budget by 2.5 percent, starting with reducing fuel costs by an estimated $100,000.
He said that figure was derived by extending oil change intervals by 1,000 miles and doubling up personnel in the patrol division when possible.
An additional $150,000 could be added to the city general fund by moving the $150,000 the department receives from the Pine Bluff, Dollarway and Watson Chapel school districts to the general fund. Hubanks said currently, the department pays the salaries for officers assigned to the schools and the districts in turn pay $50,000 per officer to the department.
Hubanks said the department has also changed its cellular telephone accounts from Sprint to Verizon, eliminated iPhones and data plans and is saving $5,600 annually.
Since he took office Jan. 1, Hubanks has increased the number of officers assigned to training from one to three and increased the traffic division from two to seven.
“We intend to maintain high standards and training is the way to do that, and since we’ve added the additional people to traffic, the number of accidents is way down,” he said. “The more police work we can do, the more the crime numbers are going to go down and the key is to ensure that the complaints (against officers) go down.
“Those numbers are down significantly and I think it’s because the officers are doing a better job of respecting the people and I think the the people of Pine Bluff are recognizing it,” Hubanks said.
As he has since he assumed the job of interim chief, Hubanks said he expects homicides inside the city limits to drop by 50 percent this year compared to last year. He was interviewed last week before the two homicides over the weekend, which brought the number of homicides for the year to five in the city.
In 2012, there were 18 homicides inside the city limits.
“If we can cut it by 50 percent, that would be an outrageous success but we dare not celebrate because that would still be three times the national average,” he said.