Without ever mentioning her name, Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks rapped his predecessor and praised the department’s command staff Tuesday while speaking to a local civic club.
Hubanks was appointed to his position Jan. 1 when new Mayor Debe Hollingsworth fired former Chief Brenda Davis-Jones.
“I sat down with the command staff who maintained the course despite the extreme circumstances,” Hubanks told the Pine Bluff Rotary Club. “There are no words to describe the conditions they worked under and unless you were there, you don’t know how bad it was.”
Since being appointed, Hubanks, who lives in Cleveland County, has been at the center of a dispute between members of the Pine Bluff City Council over the city’s residency requirements and a compromise resolution that would have established a 12-mile limit for department heads and grandfathered in existing department heads like Hubanks. The compromise was read for a second time at the council meeting Monday night.
Describing the controversy as a “potential distraction,” Hubanks said he didn’t go to the council meeting Monday and asked members of the Rotary Club to “ignore the noise from the council.”
“I’m going to stay focused until the job is done and until you feel safe in your homes,” he said.
Looking at the club members, Hubanks said they represented a “goodly portion of the backbone of the community,” and said their “influence is needed more than ever now.”
“Pine Bluff needs to pull back, we need to stop the bleeding of the people and the tax base, “ he said.
According to Hubanks, an average of “650 people a year voted with their feet” and moved out of the city. “We need to slow that down, stop the process and reverse it.”
Hubanks responded to a question from a member of the club about how bad crime is in Pine Bluff.
“We earned our murder rate, but the other numbers are not horrible,” Hubanks said..
He said part of the problem with previous numbers was the way there were reported.
“Our reporting method prior to 2013 killed us,” he said.
As an example, a reported burglary could also include theft of property, criminal trespass and criminal mischief if there was damage involved, Hubanks said.
“We were reporting wrong and we had been doing that for years. The perception is that overall crime is bad, but the reality is that some crimes are bad but overall, no,” he said.
Regarding the murder rate, Hubanks said there were 18 homicides in Pine Bluff last year.
“That’s 18 families who have had to bury their dead and it wasn’t addressed,” Hubanks said. “Sixteen cases were directly related to the drug trade.”
That was a factor in his decision to increase the number of officers assigned to the city’s Vice and Narcotics Division, and “to hammer mid- and upper-level drug dealers.”
“I don’t know how many murders we will have this year, but I’ve took the stance that we won’t have 18,” Hubanks said. “Even if that number is reduced to nine, it’s no cause for celebration because we would still be three times the national average.”
On another subject, Hubanks was asked about the number of officers who leave the department every year, many for higher paying jobs with other departments.
“Our officers are overworked and underpaid and as long as that continues, the exodus is going to continue,” he said.
Hubanks said the department has become a training ground for officers to get experience before moving to other departments.
Referring to his residence in Cleveland County, Hubanks said a deputy in that county, according to the weekly newspaper, might answer two or three calls in a week, and the entire sheriff’s department might handle 10 to 12 calls on a weekly basis.
“One of our officers who goes to work tonight might answer 10 calls before he goes for dinner break,” Hubanks said. “Our officers answer more calls than anybody in the state.
“The pay is pretty good, not great, and not as good as other departments,” Hubanks said.
Asked by a member of the club if the rumors are true that a small percentage of the population commits a majority of the crimes, Hubanks said yes, mentioning the idea that if a way could be found to take 100 to 150 people out of town permanently, the crime rate would drop significantly.
“In 2014, the numbers are going to change and we’re going to slowly change the perception, “Hubanks said. “Pine Bluff is not as bad as it appears to be.”