“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
–Margaret Meade, Author, anthropologist
A new/old approach to addressing crime and other neighborhood issues is taking shape in Pine Bluff and Jonesboro.
Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth recently joined police officers, firefighters, street department employees, inspection and zoning specialists, other officials and local ministers in reviving a defunct outreach program aimed at opening communications with citizens while strengthening neighborhoods.
In the northeast corner of the state, Mayor Harold Perrin told The Jonesboro Sun he was also looking for a different approach — one he hopes will be more effective – when the police department’s Quality of Life Division was created in December to bring together police, code enforcement and animal control officers.
Hollingsworth has been out on the streets with her team knocking on doors in an area of central Pine Bluff. Still looking for a program name the last time we checked, she said the experience has been favorable because residents were very receptive.
“None of them were expecting us to be walking up the street, greeting them as they were in their yards, or knocking on their doors so we could say hello and hear what they had to say,” Hollingsworth said.
Police working the streets simply call it “listening” to residents. “Community Policing” programs, popular a number of years ago, used the technique to solve some old problems with different approaches to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods.
There are some differences between the two programs in Jonesboro and Pine Bluff, yet a number of parallels.
The two Jonesboro officers, for example, don’t walk a beat, The Sun reported, but meet with neighborhood organizations, landlord associations, managers of larger apartment complexes and homeowners to learn how they can help improve conditions.
A number of ministers are “partnering” in the Pine Bluff effort to help municipal government reach out to the community, the mayor explained.
The Jonesboro operation is based in a community center on the north side of town, but they work citywide, noting a marked correlation between the physical disorder in an area and the amount of crime in the same area.
One officer also provides investigative services for the Jonesboro Urban Renewal and Housing Authority to root out fraud and abuse of federally subsidized housing programs. The agency has an 18-month waiting list for people seeking subsidized housing.
A Jonesboro officer noted he has found some instances where some people who were not authorized to live in a unit force themselves into the homes of lawful tenants who can’t get them out, The Sun reported.
The code enforcement officers found that when one home or business owner cleans up a property, neighbors respond in kind.
Perrin noted the personnel already exist across multiple departments, adding, “We are simply combining these positions and putting them under one director, which allows us to be more efficient and effective to the citizens.”
Remember those “20/20 Initiative” meetings a few years ago? Some of this same ground was plowed earlier in Pine Bluff in half a dozen town hall meetings. We suspect that data — which probably does need updating — is gathering dust on a City Hall shelf.
If we continue to wait on Little Rock or Washington to drive down Interstate 530 to our rescue, we will be waiting a very long time.
We have been given another opportunity to improve our future. The choice is still ours.