Mayor suggests mall as location for police patrol division

As the Pine Bluff City Council considers an ordinance calling for the police department’ patrol division to move into the vacant National Guard Armory on the north side of town, Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said Monday that other options are available.

Speaking to the council’s Public Safety Committee, Hollingsworth said the owner of The Pines mall, Andy Weiner, has approached the city about the possibility of the patrol division moving back to the mall, where it rented space for several years in the mid-2000s.

Hollingsworth said the request came after an incident outside the theater complex a month ago. She said the theater owners want the police presence back.

“They’re willing to spend money to get the patrol division back,” Hollingsworth said.

The mayor later said the theater owners were offering to spend $100,000 for renovations to existing space at the mall for the police patrol division, and possibly the traffic division. The city would pay a nominal fee for rent but no negotiations have been conducted.

“If that doesn’t happen, most likely the theaters will move out of the mall,” she said.

Questioned by Alderwoman Thelma Walker, who is not on the Public Safety Committee but attended the meeting, Hollingsworth said the presence of police at the mall would not be to provide security at the mall, which currently hires a private company for security.

Alderman Wayne Easterly, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the mall would “benefit greatly” from the police presence.

“They can’t pay for security like that,” he said.

Hollingsworth also offered a second possible location, saying that the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Public Library is looking at the possibility of relocating out of the Civic Center Complex, and has hired architect Fred Reed to look at their options.

“At this point they’re not sure what they want to do,” Hollingsworth said.

She also said a large part of the bond money that resulted from the five-eighths cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2011 and dedicated to improvements for the police department should go to renovations of the Joe Thomas Public Safety Center, where the police administration and detectives are located.

“It’s a 50-year old building and is going to require some maintenance,” Hollingsworth said, suggesting that the now-vacant armory be used by the police department for maintenance or the crime lab, but not the patrol division.

Alderman George Stepps, one of the council members sponsoring the resolution calling for the department to use the armory for its patrol division, stuck to his guns, saying he “could see a small precinct, three or four people (at the mall), but the whole patrol division, I don’t see it.”

Earlier, Stepps said the armory building offers a lot of positives, including “a tremendous amount of office space,” as well as a large amount of parking space for police vehicles.

“It would also be helpful for the area in terms of crime prevention,” he said. “It’s a plus for the city and worth the money we would have to put into it.”

The third member of the committee, Alderman Bill Brumett, said the armory building is “not really a new structure and I would hate to have to work there. I see it used for training, or an evidence room, or equipment maintenance.”

A motion by Stepps to forward to the full council the proposed ordinance directing the patrol division to use the armory failed for lack of a second vote.

Easterly, who originally came up with the idea of using the armory more than a year ago, said Monday: “I don’t care who uses it. I just want to get the most out of the resources we have.”

He also said “social media need to watch what they say. There were some insinuations that somebody might be getting money out of this and I’m upset about that. They need to stick with the facts.”

After the ordinance failed to clear committee, Stepps said he would “stick with the ordinance” because he had not heard input from the other members of the council.