The option of turning a fight against crime over to a superhero caped crusader for truth, justice and the American way is simple fantasy, just as is a notion that the only way to rid a neighborhood of undesirables is to confront them with an army of burly law enforcement officers armed to the teeth.
Today’s criminal element is smarter, more diversified and often more inconspicuous than ever.
Thus, weeding out the unfavorable from an area requires a proactive, scientific approach with a deliberate, direct delivery from a cast of assorted professionals and community volunteers. In Pine Bluff, such a group exists as the SAFE (Support Abatement with Fines and Enforcement) Team.
The group — which includes Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks, Fire Chief Shauwn Howell, Inspection and Zoning Director Robert Tucker, Chief Inspector Mitzi Ruth, other city department heads and the city’s crime advisory committee — met Thursday morning at the civic center for a brainstorming session.
Information Technology Director Wes O’Donohue started the meeting by projecting detailed maps featuring categorized, block-by-block crime statistics. The mapping capabilities were devised in large part by Matthew Pate, a former Pine Bluff police officer who holds a doctorate degree in criminal justice from the University of Albany, N.Y., and has advised police departments throughout the country. Pate donates his services to his hometown.
O’Donohue noted that the maps not only trace previous criminal activity, but also provide a forecasting guide to potential offenses.
The maps generated a discussion on common denominators of crime, including problems with vacant and/or abandoned houses, a good number of which have been condemned by the city and are awaiting demolition. Ruth and Tucker conveyed challenges encountered in the city’s condemnation process, through both legal restrictions and some property owners’ efforts to dodge their responsibilities.
Data indicates that the majority of residential trouble reports to police is at rental properties, prompting Hollingsworth to suggest that increased home ownership might be developed as a promotable goal. Pate said Tucker’s office perhaps could be bolstered with “manpower support,” and Hollingsworth agreed that the inspection and zoning department needs additional funding “to help in the condemnation effort.”
After a period of cautious deliberation, the team decided on its next target area in its crime-reducing mission — Hickory Street to Hazel Street, between West 13th and 22nd avenues.
At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, the SAFE Team will converge on the neighborhood, with Hollingsworth and other members as well as a volunteer group of local ministers entering the neighborhood, knocking on doors and approaching residents who may be outside their homes. The team representatives will establish a dialogue and actively encourage beautification and awareness efforts, making certain residents know they can and should notify officials about problems within their community. Police presence will be increased, with bicycle patrols as well as in marked and unmarked automobiles.
Team members will demonstrate their dedication to the campaign by “rolling up our sleeves and actually helping in whatever needs to be done,” said Hollingsworth, who added that none of then “are above getting a little dirty in the process.”
“We’ll continue the effort as long as we need to,” the mayor said. “The crime rate has dropped significantly in the previous two SAFE Team target areas, and what we intend to do is sweep the town clean one neighborhood at a time. But we can’t do it without the citizens. We want them to know that they can rely on us, but also that we’re relying on them and we’re actually all SAFE Team members.
“That’s the way it’s got to be if we’re going to bring our city back up to where it’s been in the past,” she concluded. “It’ll take everyone to get the job done.”