Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a joint effort to fight an increase in violent crime in Little Rock.
He stopped short of putting State Police officers on Little Rock streets, something city officials had said yesterday they didn’t want. The governor acknowledged that the Little Rock police was the first agency responsible for the city. “The local law enforcement challenge must be solved by resources of Little Rock. That’s what they want.”
Police Chief Kenton Buckner didn’t attend. He was said to have a funeral in conflict. Assistant Chief Wayne Bewley said the police already cooperated with county, state and federal agencies, but he said Little Rock saw this effort as a means to “increase its footprint.” The governor outlined these specifics:
* A joint investigative group with officers assigned from city, county, state and federal agencies to “share intelligence information, identify threats and target gang violence and violent offenders. He said this would be a “more focused and coordinated” effort.
* Enhanced Alcoholic Beverage Control Division enforcement. This will include strict enforcement of closing teams and close monitoring of permitted* agencies. The mass shooting Saturday occurred after closing time of the Prime Ultra Lounge.
* The Department of Community Correction will work more with police on monitoring violent offenders on parole, including with more home visits and use of new search powers granted by the 2017 legislature “to take violent offenders off the streets.”
* The State Police will provide manpower for “investigation, intelligence and arrest.”
* Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay committed to providing county jail space whenever needed to hold violent offenders that might increase the number jailed.
Pressed on what was new, given existing cooperation among the agencies, Hutchinson said there wasn’t until now a dedicated working group. “It’s elevating the current cooperation to a higher level,” he said.
Hutchinson said the “escalating level of violence” in recent years “dominates news and causes worry.” He said, “Looming clouds of violence harms us all, not just Little Rock but all of the state. He said Little Rock was a center of tourism, medical services and economic development. He said development was a major focus of his. “If Little Rock is not safe, then we cannot succeed in our goals as a state.”
Mayor Mark Stodola was present, but didn’t join a lineup of officials from related agencies at the front of the room. He told reporters later he was optimistic the task force would make a difference. Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland of Conway, nominated to be the next U.S. attorney in Little Rock, was also present. Those on hand included Col. Bill Bryant, head of the State Police; Acting U.S. Attorney Patrick Harris, Sheriff Holladay; Sheila Sharp, head of Community Corrections and Diane Upchurch, FBI agent in charge in Little Rock.
The governor didn’t set a time for the effort and said cost would primarily would be in additional jail space in that existing manpower would simply be redirected.
“We are committed to supporting the LRPD,” Hutchinson said. He said youth activities, mental health treatment, housing, jobs and education all were important of a future solution to reducing crime, but the immediate need was law enforcement and “taking dangerous people off the street.”