Crime rates have fallen across most service calls for the first nine months of 2017, according to Fort Smith Police Department (FSPD) data. While the number of murders from 2016 to 2017 remained unchanged (four each year), the number of sexual assaults, aggravated assaults, burglaries/breaking-and-entering, and theft cases have declined as much as 22% in some areas.
According to Cpl. Anthony Rice, the number of reported sexual assaults fell in 2017 to 87 from 104 through the first nine months of 2016, a drop of around 16%. Aggravated assaults fell to 363 from 384 in 2016, down approximately 5%, while burglaries/B&Es sunk to 615 from 684 in 2016, a decline of 10%.
The biggest drop for 2017 was theft, which remained the most commonly reported crime at 2,617, but that represents a 22% drop from 2016’s 3,370 cases. Cpl. Rice credited the department’s neighborhood meetings and education programs as difference makers, noting the department “started having neighborhood meetings not too long ago after the new chief came in. We went around and educated the public on locking doors, keeping the lights on outside their houses, keeping their valuables hidden and in a locked place. I think the public is getting smarter on that.”
At a ceremony Thursday night (Nov. 9) promoting seven officers to the rank of Sergeant, FSPD Chief of Police Nathaniel Clark told Talk Business & Politics he believes the drop is due to two factors: “First and foremost, when citizens say, ‘We’ve had enough,’ crime starts going down because they start calling us and they start helping us be the eyes and ears in that community.”
Secondly, “Officers are going that extra mile and taking ownership of their assigned beats and saying, ‘This is my turf, you’re not going to commit crimes on my turf.’ Now [reported crimes] are down today, they could be up tomorrow. But if you look at the first nine months of this year versus the first nine months of last year, our violent crime is down, and it’s down because we’re building those strong partnerships in the community, and it’s working.”
One indicator of progress, Clark said, is the significant increase in the amount of service calls. Despite the drops in crime, the department has fielded more than 5,000 additional calls this year at 63,743 compared to 58,220 through September 2016, a 9.5% change.
“What’s happening is, when you get more calls for services, people feel more comfortable calling, and they’re different types of calls,” Clark said.
The department has increased its presence in schools, churches, and civic organizations, and since starting the job Jan. 9, Clark created a community relations section within the department.
“It’s their job to help build those strong and lasting relationships,” Clark explained. “Any topic that the public wants, we want to go there and talk about that topic. You are a taxpayer, so when I go and get specialized training, you’re paying for the training. It’s imperative — it’s the right thing to do — when you call me and say, ‘I want you to come out and talk about bullying, I want you to talk about gang violence’ that I do it. You have invested in me, and it’s incumbent that I come back out and share the knowledge that you paid for. So we’re doing some things a little bit differently. We’re holding people (officers) accountable for their actions and their inactions.”
Coffee with the Chief, Ballin’ with the PoPo, and an increased social media presence are three of the ways the department is trying to forge a closer bond with the community, Clark said, and those were instituted because “we want feedback from the community: how can we serve you better, what can we do different? We want the community to see us in a different light because we’re human, too.”
On Thursday, the department promoted seven officers to the rank of Sergeant from a ceremony at the Riverfront Glass Pavilion, including Wendall Sampson, the first African-American officer to receive a promotion since 1988 and one of only 12 hired in the city’s history – including Chief Clark. The promoted officers honored on Thursday were Sgt. Sampson, Sgt. Robert Schibbelhut, Sgt. Lee McCabe, Sgt. Jeff Carter, Sgt. Anthony Parkinson, Sgt. Stephen Krumm, and Sgt. Scott Jackson.