Westside Neighborhood Watch preparing for halfway house inmates

In the short time it has been in existence, the Westside Neighborhood Watch group has helped police recover a stolen car, arranged for a building covered with graffiti to be torn down, and now it’s ready to watch parolees who will be assigned to a halfway house operated by the Department of Community Corrections.

The group organized by Earl and Ora Mays, who led the unsuccessful fight to stop the halfway houses that will be located on state property adjacent to the DCC facility that houses females, met Thursday night at Coleman Intermediate School.

In February, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the city had no authority to require the Department of Correction or Community Corrections to follow city zoning ordinances, clearing the way for the halfway houses.

Although Ora Mays said Thursday night that the facility would house Level 3 and Level 4 sex offenders, the Department of Community Corrections has not officially said who will be housed in the facility, or how the selection process will operate.

They have said the former inmates, who have qualified for parole, will be expected to work and pay rent, and will not be subject to 24-hour supervision. Two additional fences will separate the facility from the women’s unit, and additional cameras will be installed.

No official opening date for the facility has been announced.

“We’ve got nothing against the DOC (Department of Correction),” Ora Mays said. ‘There are people in this community who work for them, but we need to be alert citizens.

Among those in attendance at the meeting was Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks, who was asked if police planned extra patrols in the area because of the halfway houses.

“I understand your concerns,” Hubanks said. “Prisons should be reserved for violent offenders but because of skewed sentencing guidelines, 70 percent of the people in prison are in there on drug charges.

“There will be extra patrols and we hope that works,” he said. “We’re going to do smart police work and try not to have a problem.”

Asked about the possibility of putting a police substation in the neighborhood, Hubanks said that would be a possibility but his first priority will be to re-institute bike patrols, saying that substations and bike patrols “work hand in hand.

“I don’t have the personnel to do it at this time but I hope to do it by the summer,” he said. “We’re going to make it happen. I don’t know how we’re going to do it but we’re going to do it, even if I have to get on a bike myself. It’s going to happen.”

Fourth Ward Alderman Steven Mays also attended and said he felt the presence of a black-and-white police car was enough, but suggested that when a call is dispatched, “everybody on duty should respond and try to get there in record time to stop some of these people before they get away.”

Former alderwoman Janice Roberts asked Hubanks about the number of officers on duty in the area, and what portion of the sales tax increase approved by city voters in 2011 went to public safety.

To the first question, Hubanks said four or five, but explained that because of budget constraints, he has had to park some police cars to reduce fuel costs, and doubled officers up.

“We’re saving about $100,000 a year,” he said.

Regarding Roberts’ question about the sales tax, Hubanks said about $400,000 has been spent on equipment, including vehicles, and another $1.4 million set aside for a new Patrol Division location.

“The previous administration decided where the money was going to go,” he said.

On another subject, Ora Mays asked about the possibility of using reverse 9-1-1 to notify area residents about registered sex offenders who move into the neighborhood.

Hubanks said he didn’t know about that, but would check, and another member of the audience said that information is available on the police website, or the department’s Facebook page.