Some Central Park-area residents didn’t know what was happening Wednesday morning when an array of police officers, firefighters, other city employees and several volunteer ministers began spreading out around Hickory Street. But the neighborhood occupants soon discovered their visitors were bringing glad tidings and helping hands.
Pine Bluff’s SAFE (Support Abatement with Fines and Enforcement) Team initiated its second community outreach effort by knocking on doors and approaching citizens who were outside their homes. The team members introduced themselves and not only delivered a message on neighborhood security and pride, but actually rolled up their sleeves and aided in assorted chores needing immediate attention.
The goal of the SAFE Team — overseen by Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks, Fire Chief Shauwn Howell, Inspection and Zoning Director Robert Tucker, Chief Inspector Mitzi Ruth, other city administrators and the city’s crime advisory commission — is to increase dialogue between residents and the city while strengthening neighborhood crime watch capabilities. In the process, the team also hopes to encourage beautification efforts that can often discourage criminal offenses.
“It was wonderful,” Hollingsworth said afterward. “We were so organized. (Deputy Police Chief) Susie (Powell) put together a map that included different assignments for team members. Some people had read The Commercial and were expecting us, and I told those who were surprised to see us that they needed to read the paper so they would know what’s going on and coming up.
“The residents seemed so pleased to meet with us and we were well-received,” she said. “I think it was a gratifying experience for everyone.”
Hollingsworth and Hubanks decided to join the newly reorganized police bike patrol as it paraded through the neighborhood. The chief and mayor rode bikes while making their rounds.
“I think people were especially pleased to see the return of our bike patrol,” Hollingsworth said. “I haven’t met anyone yet who isn’t pleased with that unit being brought back.”
The sector had been shelved before Hollingsworth took office in January. While campaigning, she had vowed that if she was elected, the division would be brought back to duty.
“We had a lot of fun out there,” the mayor said of the SAFE Team’s current target area, which stretches from Hickory to Hazel streets between West 13th and 22nd avenues. “We even got a couple of young boys who were on their own bicycles to ride along with us. I think we got as big a kick out of that as they did.”
Hollingsworth said the team will be returning to the neighborhood for several more visits.
“Meanwhile, police patrols in both marked and unmarked vehicles will be increased and we’ll be working closely with residents on awareness around vacant and abandoned houses, which can contribute to crime in the area,” she said.
The mayor said crime took a “nosedive” in the SAFE Team’s first target neighborhood — Olive to Linden streets between West 23rd and 30th avenues — and she believes the lower numbers will be “sustainable.”
“This program and the contacts we’re making are reaping great benefits,” she said. “We’re going to sweep our city clean one neighborhood at a time and then keep it clean. We want the citizens to know they can count on us, and we’re counting on them to help get our city back up to where it’s been in the past.
“It can’t be done without the citizens making it happen, and I can’t stress that enough,” she said. “Our citizens are the keys to a better future.”