Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth speaks to the crowd gathered at Monday’s town hall meeting as she refers to a map of of the city with locations where crime has occured in the past two months. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Mayor Debe Hollingsworth wasn’t stuttering at Pine Bluff’s second monthly town hall meeting Monday night at the convention center when she said the best approach to tackling the root cause of crime here is multi-tiered.
“Education, education, education,” Hollingsworth said in response to an audience member’s question on the subject. “Education is the key to ending our crime problem here.”
The mayor, in office now for roughly nine weeks, said she’s already at work on helping to formulate a partnership with businesses and the city’s schools. She said her goal is for a “proper” facility to be obtained so that the Dollarway, Pine Bluff and Watson Chapel districts can share it as an alternative school for suspended students.
Hollingsworth said while the districts would provide professional teachers for students, adult volunteers would be contributing their services in helping to provide skills training. She said students wouldn’t be allowed to simply ignore learning while serving their disciplinary terms.
The mayor wants the alternative school location to have a friendly appearance, but also to have adequate security. She added that she also wouldn’t want residents to be intimidated by the school’s presence, and that’s why a strict atmosphere would be maintained. She figures, too, that firm enforcement of truancy controls would not only increase the school’s enrollment, but lower the number of student-age youth “roaming the streets during school hours” as well.
Hollingsworth wasn’t the only speaker who talked about cutting the crime rate.
Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks explained how a newly initiated police mapping system is tracking police calls to chart the most active areas of criminal activity. Hubanks said the system should immediately start helping the police department reduce fuel costs for its patrol vehicles.
“It takes away the randomness of our former patrol procedures,” said Hubanks, who added that the system heightens strategy-enabling capabilities.
Alderman Bill Brumett thanked Hubanks and the department for “putting the technology to work.”
Hollingsworth expressed appreciation to local resident Matthew Pate, a senior research fellow in the University of Albany (N.Y.) School of Criminal Justice, for his assistance in implementing the mapping system.
PBPD Neighborhood Watch Coordinator Regina VonTungeln outlined elements of her program. She said the purpose of the city’s 10 neighborhood crime watch groups is to reduce crime, promote neighborhood pride and support the police and fire departments. A new concept for the NCW program, which will include “teaming” with the local landlord association, will be “rolling out” sometime in April, Hollingsworth announced.
Hubanks and the mayor also pledged that “proper security” will be provided in areas in which parolees will be occupying Arkansas Department of Correction “halfway houses” here. Hollingsworth also noted that city leaders are studying ways to limit such areas through zoning restrictions.
Several youngsters associated with an Interested Citizens for Voter Registration (ICVR) effort opened the meeting by bemoaning gun violence within the city. A children’s march against gun violence will be staged here Saturday, May 4. Following the youths’ remarks, Hollingsworth said, “That’s our teenagers talking to us, the adults, and we’ve got to listen and do something.”
The mayor cited Pine Bluff’s crime woes as one of several challenges facing the city in its quest to attract new industries and businesses with higher-paying jobs. She admitted that “some housekeeping” must be done before the city can expect to see much development on that front.
“We’ve got to get a skilled workforce,” she said before repeating her call for education improvements.
Hollingsworth said she’s excited by the hiring of Laurence Alexander as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s new chancellor.
“He’s very dynamic,” the mayor said.
Aldermen Charles Boyd, Wayne Easterly, Lloyd Holcomb Jr. and Steven Mays attended the meeting along with Brumett. However, Easterly, who is still recovering from illness, left early upon the mayor’s urging.