Fort Smith police chief reports on benefits of ‘community policing’
Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker believes members of the Fort Smith Police Department have made a real difference in the community. He outlined department activities in the past year during his annual report to the Fort Smith Board of Directors at its May 24 study session.
“Our commitment to community policing, or as I prefer to call it, ‘just policing,’ remained strong throughout 2022. This approach is essential to fulfilling our vision of working ourselves out of a job by improving the lives of everyone we encounter. We understand that by working together with every segment of our community, we can foster mutual trust, respect, and understanding, which ultimately leads to a safer, more unified Fort Smith,” Baker said.
He said the vote for renewing the 0.75 cent sales tax, of which one-eighth is dedicated to the police department, in May 2022 allowed the department to institute an almost 24% pay increase.
“As a result, we have overcome personnel shortages and retention issues, making us a highly competitive employer and enabling us to strengthen our force and better serve the community,” Baker said.
He said the city saw a 10.31% decrease in Group A (homicides, sexual assaults, aggravated assaults, robberies, arsons, burglaries, larceny theft, and motor vehicle theft) from 2021 to 2022. In 2022, the FSPD patrol division had 63,371 calls for service, made 9,305 traffic stops, and issued 5,952 warnings and 1,865 citations. The division performed 96 directed patrols, made 4,701 arrests, and engaged in 20,800 non-enforcement contacts with community members, as well as 1,419 formal after-hours checks on businesses, the report stated.
Successful initiatives such as the Downtown Initiative, Homeless Initiative, and Door Hanger Program contributed to decreased crime rates and increased community safety, according to the report.
In 2022, FSPD was also able to initiate a take-home vehicle program with officers living in Fort Smith, which was one of the goals listed in Baker’s 2021 report.The department’s commitment to excellence is evident in the purchase of nine new patrol vehicles equipped with state-of-the-art technology and safety features, and the initiation of a Take Home Vehicle program for officers living in Fort Smith. And the department hired 38 new officer candidates who underwent comprehensive training. Of those 38 officers, 27 are working in various capacities within the department. The other 11 are completing their training.
In 2022, the FSPD special operations unit, which investigates violent crimes such as homicides, robberies, rapes, terroristic acts, batteries, aggravated assaults, and domestic violence cases, The unit was assigned 1,713 cases in 2022 and cleared 1,648 cases for a clearance rate of 96.2%.
Methamphetamine, fentanyl, and marijuana were the top three illegal narcotics seized by the FSPD narcotics unit in the city. The narcotics unit, along with the intelligence and K9 units, were commended by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their assistance in an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation that spanned several jurisdictions and resulted in the arrest of several narcotic traffickers and drug seizures, the report stated.
The report also noted that the K9 Unit played a significant role in completing 90 felony drug arrests, completing 103 Free Air Sniffs with 97 alerts, and seizing $17,028 in currency, 11 firearms, and four vehicles.
The Special Investigations Unit, which handles a broad scope of investigations including crimes against children, sex offender registration, cyber-crimes, computer forensics, and crime scene investigations, was assigned 882 cases in 2022 and cleared 824 for a clearance rate of 93.42%.
“Due to the nature of the cases and the coordination required between multiple agencies, many cases assigned to SIU Detectives take a considerable amount of time to investigate. Our detectives worked on 97 cases (5.4% increase compared to 2021), examining 13TB of data, in support of our department and outside agencies,” the report states.
The property crimes unit formed a commercial burglary task force last year in order to address an increase in smash and grab burglaries in the city in late November and early December, the report said. The task force was able to apprehend the offender responsible for the burglaries, which resulted in the clearance of 15 commercial burglary cases.
“The unit also identified and arrested a group of juveniles responsible for committing vehicle thefts and breaking and entering into vehicles. The detectives were able to clear more than 30 cases related to their activity,” the report stated.
Overall, the property crimes unit was assigned 1,014 cases and cleared 881 for a clearance rate of 86.88%.
Baker said some of the key initiatives of the department this year are to make progress in merging the 911 centers, which will streamline communication and make the emergency response system more efficient and effective; implementing a new Computer Aided Dispatch and Records Management System (CAD RMS); moving toward the integration of Flock Safety Cameras that specialize in Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) to track and identify vehicles involved in criminal activities; launching the Public Safety Cadets program, an initiative aimed at fostering relationships between youth and law enforcement; and implementing a sobering center designed to reduce incarceration for nonviolent offenders.