The Fort Smith Police Department (FSPD) annual report for 2017 revealed a drop in reported crimes and a rise in diversity among sworn officers. FSPD Chief Nathaniel Clark presented the data to the city’s Board of Directors at a study session on Tuesday (May 22).
Clark took over the department on Jan. 9, 2017 with a charge to address hiring disparities in a way that better reflects the city’s demographics. While the department worked toward its inclusivity goal in his first year, it also witnessed a 10.6% drop in reported crimes, with 6,212 in 2017 against 6,944 the previous year.
Clark credited community support and “community-first policing” to the changes.
“Any chief’s proudest accomplishment is to reduce crime, and we had an almost 11% reduction,” Clark said, adding it came due to “us locking hands with one another, standing tall shoulder-to-shoulder as a community, and saying that we have had enough.”
Clark said he also attributed the reduction to “holding officers accountable for their actions as well as their inactions” as well as enhanced training. Department personnel logged 20,931 hours of continuing education programs in 2017 among its 147 sworn officers.
On the diversity issue, the department increased its number of black, hispanic, and female officers. Since 2016, it has improved the number of black officers to 4% of staff against 1%. The Hispanic demo is now at 7% from 5% previously, and female officers are at 8%, up from 5% in 2016. Clark said the department used “enhanced social media” in reaching out to candidates and also visited schools, churches, and civic organizations. In 2018, the efforts led to a recruiting class that was “the most diverse ever hired at the Fort Smith Police Department,” Clark said, adding his department reached “thousands” on social networks and an additional 13,500 just by getting out into the community.
To 2018 and beyond, Clark said he hopes to increase sworn officers to 164, implement succession planning measures within the department, continue targeted recruiting efforts, and develop a second precinct or substation “on the east or south sides of the city.”
“Right now, we have one precinct on the west side of town. Can you imagine if we have a substation on the far east side or the south side?” Clark said. “You would have a quicker response and greater mobility. That also saves wear and tear on the cars. It’s a win-win for everybody, especially the community, because they have visibility in their respective areas, quicker response in their respective areas, and it would provide enhanced, quality services.”
Director Mike Lorenz complimented the entire department on 2017’s results, stating that “No one person could do what’s been done. It’s great teamwork and great job with the training.”
Director André Good, who acknowledges he has “brought attention to the department” in the last year, said his outspokenness has been “only because we have had some negative things happen and some negative news throughout the years. But the focus should be on what we’re bringing to the citizens and what we’re bringing to the department now. That’s the change that I wanted to see. That’s the change we all wanted to see. And it’s happening.”
Good has been a critic of the city’s years-long lack of diversity, particularly at the Civil Service Commission level. In 2017, he even called for consideration of disbanding the Commission altogether when it did not allow a vote on Chief Clark’s request to hire high-level officers from outside the department as opposed to the long-practiced “promote from within” policy.