Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.
By: Keeli Wallace
From 2016 to 2020, Black people represented 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet suffered 59 percent of gun homicides. Similarly, while young Latinos represented 4 percent of the population, they accounted for 8 percent of gun homicides. Gun violence is now the leading cause of death among youth, and despite representing only 20 percent of the population, young people ages 15 to 29 suffered 48 percent of gun homicides. In February of 2022, the City of Little Rock declared the recent uptick in violent crime a state of emergency.
According to the latest Census Data, Little Rock has a population of only 201,998 within its city limits. However, Little Rock has continued to break record numbers in homicides and other violent crimes over the last five years. Based on Crime Data Explorer, an online interactive data tool created by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, Little Rock had one of the highest crime rates in the country, 2,095.94 per 100,000 people. In 2021, Little Rock had a record-breaking 62 homicides committed between January and December of that year, an over 20% increase from 2020. Little Rock went on to break that record in 2022 with a record 81 killings. Little Rock’s violent crime rate is on par with cities like Detroit, St. Louis, and Memphis. The majority of the victims in the 64 homicides in 2021, according to Mayor Scott, were between the ages of 11 and 24. In response to these homicides, Mayor Frank Scott Jr instituted a Crime Reduction Strategy that consisted of major investments in three core areas: (1) Policing; (2) Programming; and (3) Community Involvement.
However, there was an over-emphasis on policing and programming with a smaller effort placed on community involvement. The proposed policing initiatives include recruiting law enforcement officers, targeted patrols in higher-crime areas, and the creation of a Real-Time Crime Center, a hub within the Little Rock Police Department to immediately analyze video and other data from across the City.
The proposed programming initiatives included funding to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, UNITY Martial Arts, and the Boys & Girls Club of Central Arkansas. However, the only community-based program was the H.O.P.E. initiative. This initiative, which stands for “Holistic Outreach and Prevention in Every neighborhood, focuses on addressing and transforming the harmful conditions that perpetuate the symptoms of violence and crime in Little Rock.”
Little Rock police Maj. Casey Clarks, a 27-year department veteran, communicated their opinion on police impact during an interview with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “When it comes to deterring crime, increased police presence is still employed in high-crime areas,” Clark said, “but in general it’s not as effective as it was in the ’90s when gang turf contributed to homicides. That’s not really what we’re seeing now,”
In response to the continued record-breaking homicides in Little Rock, I suggest the city take a different approach to abet violent crime. I propose that Little Rock focus more of its resources on Community-Based Violence Interventions. These programs have proven successful in reducing gun violence and violent crime more broadly in communities over the past two decades—in some communities by as much as 60 percent. Cities such as Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago have each implemented a Cure Violence program and have seen a more than 30 percent reduction in shootings and killings. Chicago’s CRED program, which combines street outreach, coaching and counseling, workforce development, and advocacy programs, also saw a 50 percent reduction in gunshot injuries among its participants in only 18 months after implementation.
Community-Based Violence Interventions have proven to have an important impact on violent crime in cities similarly situated to Little Rock. I am hopeful that with this kind of advocacy citizens of Little Rock will be positively impacted and crime rates will be reduced significantly.