Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth (left) laughs as the new Pine Bluff Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks is presented the keys to his new city car by Lt. Terry Hopson in this file photo from Tuesday, Jan. 1. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Interim Pine Bluff Police Chief Jeff Hubanks is not happy about the number of homicides the city recorded last year, and he has a plan to try and drop that number this year.
“Eighty percent of our homicides, or more, are drug-related and it deals with the victim being involved in one degree or another with the people selling or using drugs on what we would consider a mid-level,” Hubanks said. “This is where the murders are coming from and it’s just a no-brainer for Vice to go in there and deal with this.”
A veteran of more than 27 years with the Pine Bluff Police Department before he retired last February, Hubanks was named interim chief by Mayor Debe Hollingsworth on Jan. 1, replacing former chief Brenda Davis-Jones, who was fired by Hollingsworth.
“Vice, by virtue of what it is and how it works, is the most proactive division, or can be, in the police department,” Hubanks said. “They have a very well-defined mission that is based on the concept of evidence-based policing (also called problem-oriented policing) and that’s how we’re going to drop the homicide rate.
“We’re going to expand our capability of dealing with drug crimes and as a byproduct of getting mid- and upper-level dealers off the street, homicides will drop,” Hubanks said.
Using that tactic, he believes the rate can drop by 25 percent this year, although a 50 percent reduction is his goal.
“Last year we had 18 murders,” Hubanks said. “If we achieve my goal of what I think we can do, if we drop the homicide rate by 50 percent, that means nine people are still going to die, and that’s putting it bluntly. At that rate, at that number, we’re still three times the national average for homicide rates. Even if we have a massive huge success of 50 percent reduction, we are still three times the national average and that ain’t no cause for celebration.”
Included in his plans are adding additional personnel to the Vice unit, including another supervisor to go with the lieutenant and sergeant who are currently assigned to the unit.
“We’re going to interview within the police department for those positions,” Hubanks said. “I would like to add at least three patrolmen.”
In addition to more personnel and supervisors, Hubanks said the vice officers will receive additional training in how to do their jobs.
“We’ve got a marathon training session that begins next week that’s going to involve all the supervisors of the department to get this concept up and running,” Hubanks said.
While concentrating on mid- and upper-level dealers, Hubanks said vice officers will not be concentrating on user level addicts.
“Those are cases that just clog the system,” he said. “We don’t have appropriate treatment facilities here and incarceration has never worked. We’re not going to charge people just to get numbers. We’re going after weight.”
Hubanks said the direction he wants to take the police department in is one that he and the command staff agree on.
“I had my initial meeting with staff and I laid out my game plan after I heard what they had to say,” Hubanks said. “They haven’t had a creative outlet for their ideas and by calling it a creative outlet, and not to minimize it, but just that, when you think about something, think about an initiative, sometimes you need to air it out in public and what we started is that we are able to talk again without ridicule and I think they were not able to do that for a time. I’m not going to specify the time they couldn’t. People can draw their own conclusions.”
Hubanks said the ideas that came out of that staff meeting coincided with the things he wants to do.
“I think the people of Pine Bluff ought to be pretty encouraged by that,” he said. “It’s not like somebody came in here with newfangled ideas. The ideas were already here and we’re just putting them in motion.”
While he hasn’t made many changes in the week and a half that he’s been in office, Hubanks made one last week to shore up the Detective Division, moving Lt. Terry Hopson from Patrol Division back to day shift detectives, a position Hobson held for a number of years before being reassigned by Davis-Jones more than a year ago.
“Terry Hopson is a veteran and his knowledge base is second to none,” Hubanks said. “Terry and I probably worked close to 200 homicides together and he was the hands-down pick of the deputy chief (in charge of the Detective Division) and the assistant chief. In fact, the prosecutor’s office even asked about getting him back in detectives.”
Another big push for Hubanks is to improve the department’s training program.
“If officers are not trained properly, the city is going to have to pay out because of lawsuits and torts and the (Arkansas) Municipal League (which provides insurance for the city) is going to have to match that,” Hubanks said. “We’re behind on a lot of things including some of the mandated training and we’re going to have to get caught up ASAP.”
Explaining problem-oriented policing, Hubanks said the policy in the past has been to simply “throw resources into a neighborhood (where a problem is reported) and that resulted in stopping a lot of people who were not offenders.
“By taking the extra step or two and determining the source of the problem, you can expend your efforts to solve that problem and the people appreciate us more,” Hubanks said. “That’s a better way to do business and there’s less chance of incidental harassment and less chance of racial complaints.”
During his career with the department, Hubanks has worked in every division, including patrol, vice, training, detectives and internal affairs. He also served as commander of the department’s SWAT team, and started the crime lab and the Internet Crimes Against Children Unit.
Hubanks says he has police work in his blood. A late uncle, Norman Young, served as Pine Bluff police chief; his father was a patrolman in the department in the early 1960s; he is related to the late Garland Brewster, who served as Jefferson County sheriff; a great-uncle was town marshal in Sherrill; and his great-grandfather was a deputy sheriff in Oklahoma in the 1920s.
Hubanks’ wife of 30 years, Barbara, is a math teacher in the Dollarway School District and he said she supported his decision to come back “100 percent.”
“My pit bull, Bruno, misses me because I used to spend a lot of time with him while I was off,” Hubanks said.
Hubanks declined comment on the controversy surrounding discussions about where he lives, saying that “whole discussion is above my pay grade and it’s not about me personally.”