Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola on Thursday outlined a plan to reduce violence in the city. The “Little Rock for Life” plan (available here) addresses ways to improve the police department, invest in violence prevention programs, expand job opportunities, and revitalize neighborhoods, among other areas.
In an hour-long address, Stodola acknowledged that violent crime rates and homicides have recently risen. He said his announcement is not simply a response by city leaders to the Power Ultra Lounge shooting that resulted in 28 injured people.
“This is not that just happened overnight because of the shooting at the Ultra Lounge. Listening is something that we do every day as public servants. It’s something that you have given to us as a privilege in representing you,” Stodola said inside a Little Rock City Hall atrium packed with community members, local non-profit leaders and city employees.
“To solve these problems, we have to not only understand them. We have to realize that they are complex issues that are rooted in years and years of oftentimes failing systems,” Stodola said.
With several city directors seated to his side, the mayor outlined several ways to improve the Little Rock Police Department—including more aggressive recruiting to fill a shortage of officers. By the end of the year, Stodola said the LRPD plans to hire 60 recruits who are currently undergoing training. The city would be pursuing an aggressive public relations strategy to recruit more officers, offering signing bonuses of up to $10,000 for residents of Little Rock.
Stodola said he wants to propose an ordinance requiring late night businesses to record surveillance videos and ensure there are high bail amounts set for violent criminal suspects. He’s also asking the state to fund electronic GPS monitoring of parolees.
He also called for a special court for domestic violence, electronic GPS monitoring of parolees and tougher state laws to prevent witness intimidation. The mayor spent considerable time reviewing and promoting what city resources already exist for at-risk youth and people reentering society after a prison sentence.
Charles Williams, who’s affiliated with the group Stop the Violence, sat in the front row during the mayor’s speech. He said afterward that he would like to have seen more of a commitment toward expanding direct intervention programs.
“You’ve got to have some boots on the ground to get [violence in the city] resolved,” Williams said, “not standing up doing a show and press conference. Anybody can do that.”
But Stodola did say he wanted more interveners in the streets. He referred to a pilot program called “Ceasefire Little Rock” that was doing just that. Based on similar programs in other cities, people with street credibility find ways to deescalate potentially deadly disputes.