A University of Arkansas at Little Rock criminal justice professor has partnered with the Little Rock Police Department (LRPD) to investigate the effectiveness of the department’s increased efforts to combat the rise of violent crime in the city.
Dr. Trisha Rhodes, assistant professor of criminal justice, will receive $30,000 from a $750,000 grant LRPD recently received from U.S. Department of Justice. The Local Law Enforcement Crime Gun Intelligence Center Integration Initiative Grant will allow the LRPD Gun Crimes Intelligence Unit to establish its own in-house ballistics testing unit.
“NIBIN, the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, is a national database that police officers use,” Rhodes said. “Police officers collect shell casings, and occasionally guns, as evidence. Once they enter all the information in NIBIN, it goes into a national database, which can lead to matches to previous crimes and produce leads and suspects.”
The specialized computer system is connected to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives database that police use to connect bullets gathered from crime scenes to firearms. The main issue with NIBIN is time. When crime labs get backlogged, it takes time for evidence to be entered and processed through NIBIN. With its own system, LRPD will be able to analyze evidence much faster. Rhodes noted that being able to connect crimes through NIBIN will be especially useful in long-term efforts to reduce violent crime, since a large number of these crimes are often perpetrated by repeat offenders.
“With these types of violent crimes, it’s often not that many people who are responsible,” Rhodes said. “It’s often the same people committing similar crimes. It’s often a small subset that is accounting for a majority of the violent crimes. Once you identify those people and get them off the street, it will likely have a huge impact on reducing crime.”
Rhodes is already familiar with the Gun Crimes Intelligence Unit. For the past two years, Rhodes, along with Criminal Justice Department Chair Mary Parker and criminal justice professor Jim Golden, have studied LRPD’s efforts to prevent violent crime in Little Rock, ever since the Gun Crimes Intelligence Unit was created in early 2018.
LRPD received a nearly $500,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Technology Innovation for Public Safety program. The criminal justice professors received $62,800 from the grant to analyze the effectiveness of the Gun Crimes Intelligence Unit and to study whether Little Rock’s previous increase in violent crime was an anomaly or a pattern of increased crime across the city.
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. Last year showed a decrease to 40 homicides, a 13.19 percent decrease from 2017.
The professors will release the results of their current research in 2020. Meanwhile, the new three-year research project will end in October 2022. Rhodes will continue to evaluate the Gun Crimes Intelligence Unit to determine if the unit’s actions are leading to reduced violent crime in the city and to determine the effects of the in-house NIBIN system.
“We will be looking at changes in violent crimes in Little Rock that involve a gun, such as homicides, shootings, robberies, and terroristic acts like drive-by shootings,” Rhodes said. “We are also looking at clearance rates and the number of cases that are prosecuted and yield convictions in this area.”
Rhodes looks forward to discovering what changes the continued efforts of the Gun Crimes Intelligence Unit, along with their new equipment, will bring.
“The Criminal Justice Department is excited about continuing our partnership with the City of Little Rock and the Little Rock Police Department,” Rhodes said. “LRPD has made a great effort with this unit to fight gun violence in the city. They have seen a reduction in violent crime in the past year. The combination of the new equipment and old-fashioned detective work is what will really help address violent crime issues in the city.”
The funds will pay for Madison Doyle, a master’s student in the criminal justice program, to serve as Rhodes’ research assistant.