PB needs a 2013 Wanda Buckingham

Community involvement is central to the approach adopted by your police department in the ongoing effort to reduce crime and improve our city’s image. Your continued interest and involvement guarantees success. I am proud to say the number of active Neighborhood Watch groups has increased this year and those already established have shown a similar expansion in their activity.

Since becoming your interim chief of police, I have been fortunate to attend a number of Neighborhood Watch meetings. It has proven very beneficial for me to have heard both your compliments and critiques. Only through your frequent and direct input will the department be able to meet your expectations.

It is essential that you approve of your police officers. I want you to approve of the way they work and the results they achieve. One of my primary goals for the department is broad collaboration and deepened mutual trust. I want you to have the same sense of pride and ownership in your police department as my dearly departed friend and mentor, Wanda Buckingham.

While she left us too soon, I well remember Ms. Wanda leading a group of like-minded souls on a number of crusades against known dope houses — actually standing in front of the houses, chest out, chin up in a beautiful and inspiring Hellenic profile. She pointed her finger and shouted long and loud the list of shortcomings she saw before her. I do not recall hearing any back-sass from the targets of her withering verbiage. I also remember that some in the community did not approve of Ms. Wanda’s approach. She was pressured at times to “tone it down.”

I know the police chief at the time was concerned about some sort of hazy and half imagined community outcry. He wanted her to stop the street demonstrations, but had the good sense not to say so to her face. Ms. Wanda persevered and in so doing, she inspired others to take a critical look at themselves and their surroundings.

She certainly inspired me. Fragments of our many conversations were going through my mind as I wrote the plan and set the course for the current direction of your police department. I still remember her voice.

Ms. Wanda served on many public boards and committees. She wrote a column for the Pine Bluff Commercial, but she was no ivory tower activist. She also picked up the trash from neighborhood streets — far from where she lived. The fact that there was trash that needed picking up seemed to matter. Where it had landed didn’t.

Ms. Wanda was known for her perfect manners. She was firm, but fair in her opinions and always courteous in her discourse. I know all too well what she would make of the rudeness and coarse name-calling that seems endemic in what passes for politics in Pine Bluff. I doubt the offenders could look her in the eye.

Pine Bluff would benefit from a 2013 iteration of Wanda Buckingham. Her shoes have not yet been filled. We need her conviction, her unwavering sense of propriety, her ability to see far ahead. If I do meet her successor, I plan to make a promise; I will not be conflicted or over-cautious. Nor will I bow to any stooge-like detractors. To the “New Wanda” I’ll have only one admonishment: Do your thing, I got your back.

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Jeff Hubanks is the interim police chief for the city of Pine Bluff.