LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Little Rock has experienced an uptick in violent crime, and voters will decide in Nov. who’s tasked with addressing that problem.
As of publication, the city is up to 17 homicides in 2022. Over the last five years, homicides have increased by 35%. In the same time frame, violent crime, in general, rose by 27%.
Mayor Frank Scott, Jr., who is in his fourth year in that role, said the global pandemic has exposed some systemic needs in the city ranging from the economy, healthcare, mental health, and hopelessness.
“Our goal is to provide hope to the hopeless. Our goal is to heal communities,” Scott said. “That’s the reason why we’ve been so laser-focused on targeted community development, particularly south of 630, east of 630, where most of the crime is in the city.”
Scott said most of the year’s homicides stem from arguments or domestic violence. A dual focus on targeted police patrols and long-term community intervention programs has been synthesized into the administration’s “HOPE” program.
Another problem is the ability for people who should not have firearms to easily get them, Scott said.
”Those who should not have illegal guns due to being on parole, have access to illegal guns and resort to crime with those illegal guns,” Scott said.
Scott said he does not think voters will decide who to elect based on the violent crime outlook in the city.
“Voters are going to be concerned about the future, and how we move forward,” Scott said.
In Nov., Scott will be challenged by at least two contenders: Steve Landers and Greg Henderson. Landers, a former businessman who owned several prominent car dealerships in the city, said he thinks crime will be on voters’ minds.
“It’s like every other day,” Landers said. “[People ask] where’s it going to happen at?”
Landers said using crime data to decide where to send officers on patrol would help quell short-term crime. He said the dozens of officers who have left the department created a hole being filled by criminal activity.
“You don’t have to have police who arrest people just to be arresting people, but you have to have a presence,” Landers said. “Data-based policing is a presence.”
Henderson, who founded Rock City Eats, provided a statement about violent crime in the city.
“The uptick in crime has impacted everyone here in Little Rock, and it is something that shows no signs of slowing regardless of how the city tries to spin the narrative. The numbers simply don’t lie, crime has turned increasingly violent and, while the entire country has seen a rise in crime, we have far outpaced national increases. As a city, we need to start by being honest that there is a serious problem. I would like to commend the women and men of the LRPD. They are short-staffed and are faced with circumstances that have had a major impact on morale. Yet they get out every day and do what they can for the city.
The “big problem” really is multiple little problems that have been allowed to fester. Police staffing has been low over the course of the past 5 years and has not improved any. This has caused staff to be stretched thin working. Morale across the force is low due to continuous infighting with no attempt to resolve the major differences between the chief and other members of the force. This has caused a number of LRPD officers to leave and has made it increasingly difficult to recruit good officers.
Calls to 911 and non-emergency numbers are often going unanswered due to not being able to staff, provide training for new hires, and address the mental health impacts that working in that position causes. This means that situations often escalate into violent crimes when a quicker response could have de-escalated the situation.
We have to address these issues if we want to see crime decrease. Then we need to work on some of the long-term plans to decrease crime so that we do not find ourselves in this situation again.”
Landers and Scott both pointed to holistic approaches as necessary, with the former adding he agrees with the latter on his ideas but thinks he started too late.
“There’s a lot of programs out there that are really good,” Landers said. “Some of them are not really good that we waste money on.”
Scott said some the efforts of short-term policing solutions have paid off, as the numbers indicate month-to-month improvements. He said several newly-implemented programs will not show their effectiveness for at least a few years.
“My job as mayor is not to focus on today,” Scott said. “It’s to focus on today, tomorrow, and the future.”
The filing deadline for the election is Aug. 10.