Getting rid of city’s drug problem is key


During the month of January 2013, the Command Staff of the Pine Bluff Police Department conducted a series of evaluations on and held discussions about resources available to the agency. The goal of these sessions was to devise a plan for the reduction of crime and improvement of our public image. With the benefit of this planning, we believe we can accomplish the majority of what needs to be done with currently available resources. While we could always use additional funding, equipment and better facilities, the Pine Bluff Police Department is wealthy in the most important resource: high quality personnel.

In addition to being staffed with some very exceptional people, we also seem to have an above average number of them. The Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that the national average of police officers per 1,000 inhabitants in cities with a total population of 25,000 to 49,000 is 1.8. I was happy to discover that Pine Bluff has a rare advantage of 3.13 police officers per 1,000. While this type of comparison is not recommended as a central criterion for making staffing decisions, it does indicate a certain raw ratio and further begs a question: With this density of police officers, why does Pine Bluff have a crime problem? Why does it have the reputation it has?

We have a number of crime indicators that are simply too high, but one statistic stands above all others: a local murder rate in excess of seven times the national average. We are famous for this terrible problem. Not only do people needlessly die, but the negative perception created by this violence literally chokes the life out of our community.

In the past, the departmental approach to murder was purely reactive. We would rush to the crime scene, cordon it off, gather evidence, conduct interviews and discover facts. Most often, we solved the case.

A fact that the public probably misses is that Pine Bluff police detectives have the dubious distinction of being the most experienced homicide detectives in the entire state. I had occasion to reflect on that fact at Lt. Bill Goodman’s funeral service last week. He was an excellent homicide detective as well as an excellent supervisor. He got that way, as did his peers, through experience — as have many officers of my generation.

To this point, we have worked the cases one at a time, as they occur. Even in solving cases we feel we have offered a half measure to the people we are sworn to protect. We all have wished for a way to make a difference for a living person and not just cold closure for a grieving family. We have all wanted to be… proactive, to keep bad things from happening at all.

In that spirit, we have adopted a new approach, not just to homicides, but to all the ills we are called to address. Our new orientation is proactive rather than merely reactive. In law enforcement circles, our new strategy is often called Problem Oriented Policing. The precept of Problem Oriented Policing demands that we identify the root cause of a problem before throwing resources at it in random fashion — as we have always done.

In Pine Bluff the common thread running through the majority of our murders is a deeply embedded drug problem, specifically at the dealer level. Drug trafficking begets violence. To those involved, it is just one more cost of doing business. It is a cost we as a community can no longer afford to pay.

Combining the previously mentioned relative surplus of 1 police officer per 1,000 with our problem oriented approach, we are forging a new era of narcotics enforcement. Our Vice Unit, led by Deputy Chief Kelvin Sargent, Capt. Billy Elliot and Lt. James Golden are going to aggressively prosecute this plan against drug dealers in Pine Bluff. Success is imminent. When you see these good people out and about, shake their hand and wish them well. They are working very hard for you.