LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — For more than a year we have told you Little Rock Police are facing a serious officer shortage.
At one point, LRPD was down 67 officers, making it difficult to patrol the streets, let alone community police.
About a year later, they've nearly closed that gap, and Mayor Mark Stodola said, are laser-focused on continuing to bring crime numbers down.
"We hired 81 officers this past year," Stodola said. "We have 25 vacancies, which is typical when you have retirements and resignations through the year. In February, we are going to have a class of 20-25, so we have basically eliminated that shortage."
The mayor made the remarks Friday at the graduation ceremony for 22 new officers. He told me violent crime numbers were on a downswing and hiring those officers is one way we got there.
We were interested to see the numbers, so I reached out to LRPD and found year-to-date, violent crimes are down 25 percent compared to last year at this time.
In the last year, the City has launched a number of efforts to bring down those numbers down. I asked the Mayor what he credits for the success.
"We have started up a traffic accident squad, we call the 'grey squad,' of eight individuals that will be in uniform," Stodola said. "But they will be investigating automobile accidents that are non-injury type accidents. What that does, is gives us a chance to get more certified police officers out on the streets helping to patrol our community.”
Stodola also credited the 12-hour shift system for patrol officers, the success of the new Violent Crime Apprehension Team and a program to restructure so-called "desk jobs" at the department, so they are given to police-hopefuls. That allows Certified Police Officers formerly in those roles to patrol.
"It feels just a little safer right now,” Glenn Hersey said.
Hersey is the Outreach Pastor at St. Mark Baptist in the troubled 12th Street Corridor.
"Crime has gone down," Hersey said. "It has significantly decreased. We've noticed an increased police presence in the neighborhood up and down 12th Street and based upon this time last year, the afternoon drive-by shootings and that sort of thing has decreased."
When LRPD began putting its officers on a 12-hour rotation with a focus on the City's crime hot spots, many in those communities including at the 12th Street Corridor thought that additional presence could be threatening to residents. Now, Pastor Hersey said, those same residents welcome that increased presence with open arms.
"The police need to be out there in our community, so the community can get to know who the policemen are, that the police force is not a threat, and they're really there to help to deter crime, and I think that needs to continue,” the pastor explained.
Stodola said more officers means the department should soon be able to resume its community policing efforts that were put on hold because of the shortage.
They also plan to keep the 12-hour rotations for officers.