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UA Little Rock partners with LRPD to investigate violent crime

Trisha Rhodes

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is helping take a bite out of crime by partnering with the Little Rock Police Department to combat the rise of violent crime in the city over the past two years. 

LRPD recently received a nearly $500,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Technology Innovation for Public Safety program.

The grant will allow the police department to purchase a ballistics identification system, which will allow crime scene evidence to be analyzed more quickly than sending evidence to the state crime lab, and create a Gun Crimes Intelligence Unit to better investigate gun-related crimes in the Little Rock area.

“The Little Rock Police Department is excited to have the opportunity to work with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Criminal Justice Department in a collaborative effort to investigate and reduce gun-related crimes in the city, through resources provided in the U.S. Department of Justice Technology Innovation for Public Safety grant,” said Capt. Ken Temple, commander of the LRPD Special Investigations Division.

Faculty members of the Criminal Justice department – Chair Mary Parker, Trisha Rhodes, and Jim Golden – along with graduate students Brooke Cooley and Steven McCain – will receive $62,800 from the grant over the next two years to analyze the effectiveness of this new unit and evaluate areas for improvement. Findings from the study may also show whether Little Rock’s increase in violent crime over the past two years is a short-term anomaly or a rising pattern of increased crime.

“We’ve had a wonderful relationship with LRPD over the years, and this is a tremendous opportunity for their department and ours to have a positive impact on gun violence in the City of Little Rock,” Department Chair Mary Parker said. “We are happy to be part of this endeavor with the Little Rock Police Department.”

Little Rock had 44 homicides in 2014 followed by 31 in 2015, a 35-year low in overall crime, including violent crime. This was followed by two years of increasing crime rates with 42 homicides in 2016 and 54 in 2017.

“As a researcher, my personal opinion is that it’s hard to tell if this is a true uptick in crime,” Rhodes said. “It takes several years to see if there is a true pattern of increasing or decreasing crime. For the most part, crime is still at its lowest across the country since the 1960s. In Little Rock, the slight uptick is alarming, and LRPD is working hard to collect scientific data and focus their efforts on finding the people who are most likely to be the victim of a crime or the perpetrator of a violent crime.”

Members of the Criminal Justice department look forward to assisting the Little Rock Police Department.

“It’s very important to form these collaborative partnerships, and it makes my work more meaningful when I do research out in the field that has an impact on day-to-day life,” Rhodes said. “I want my work to be useful and meaningful in the real world.”