Three months and counting

Cautiously optimistic. That’s the only term we dare apply to the recent revelation that Pine Bluff has gone a whole three months without a murder. This point was highlighted at the Coffee With the Chiefs meeting on Tuesday. It sends a small ray of hope in an all-too-often blood soaked recounting of local violence.

As reported by The Commercial, Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks said the lower homicide numbers are “no fluke.”

“We’re down by five this year and that’s five families who have not had to bury a loved one,” Hubanks said. “We’re purposefully targeting violent offenders. The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is doing their thing. They’re telling us what we need to do and they’re keeping people in jail so they’re not out here shooting other people.”

As to his “thing,” Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter, the featured speaker, elaborated on his staff’s approach to interrupting the sustained tide of violence.

“Three years ago, we made the decision that if a person was out on bond and committed another crime, we would ask the judges to revoke that bond,” Hunter said. “If they were on probation and committed another crime, we would ask that the probation be revoked.

“We’ve got a group of bad guys who don’t play by the rules,” he said.

He’s certainly right about that. We have a core of people whose names and faces appear in the Jail Log section of this paper with a disturbing frequency.

Attenuating Hunter’s point slightly, it’s not just that these malefactors don’t play by the rules — the criminal laws at least — it’s that they have sufficient experience as arrestees that they know where all the slack is. Take for example any one of innumerable criminal “frequent fliers” here in town. They know that they can get arrested, make bond, go about their normal criminal routines, get arrested again, make bond on the second charge, get out… lather, rinse, repeat … several times before they’re ever tried on the original charge.

Fortunately, Hunter’s office also knows this. That’s why the jail is now bulging with folks who can’t post bond. The prosecutor’s office has finally been able to get cash bonds in high amounts — and the bad guys have to stay locked up because they don’t have access to $100,000 in cash. This is how the system should work.

We’ve also seen significant changes in the workaday processes of the Department of Community Corrections. They too have figured out the old ways weren’t working.

As we have well covered, the Pine Bluff Police Department has similarly joined the party with many new programs and strategies.

As Hubanks has said at every single Town Hall meeting, “Randomness stops now.”

The one faction that doesn’t seem to understand the necessity of a new day can be found inside the city council chambers. For all the hard work done by the prosecutor, police and DCC, it will be for naught unless the city council summons the collective will to fundamentally change our most troubled neighborhoods.

Some of these areas have been plagued by crime for decades, even though several generations of people have moved in and out. That fact exposes a very simple truth: If the crime stays put even though the people change, then the place itself must be made to change.

To accomplish this, the Inspections Department will have to be given real teeth. Deep reforms will be required in our predominant culture of renting. Both owners and renters will have to be held accountable. Otherwise, all the hard work that has purchased us a summer free of murder could easily turn into a violent year’s end.