LETTER TO THE EDITOR
I am writing in response to the November 29, 2016, article written by David Showers titled, “City attributes reduction in crime to new jail”.
Having spent the last three decades married to a law enforcement professional who has over 15 years in an upper-management/leadership role in both domestic offices as well as in foreign environments, I feel that my exposure to the law enforcement community provides me an advantage to speak proficiently on issues related to crime.
As a Garland County resident who works in the City of Hot Springs, I paid close attention to the candidates who showed an interest in filling the vacancy for City Manager. During the selection process for the position of Chief of Police, I closely followed the progression and met with the final four candidates at a reception, days before a decision was made by the new City Manager. I was impressed with the breadth of experience possessed by most of the aspirants.
In David Shower’s article, I found that the comments made by Chief of Police Jason Stachey to raise more questions than they provided answers. The lead paragraph of the article indicated that the Hot Spring Police Department (PD) reported 21.9% fewer criminal offenses and that arrests were down 44%. The first question raised is that in 2014 and 2015, there was no recorded data in the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Hence, what is the 21.9% “fewer criminal offenses” compared to? Second, both criminologists and sociologists agree that jails or detention facilities are not interconnected to the rise or fall in crime rates. It is the certainty of punishment not the severity of punishment, that produces deterrent benefits. The question raised with another of Chief Stachey’s quotes is: How does a 44% reduction in arrests correlate to the opening of a new detention center?
I ask the citizens of Garland County and the City of Hot Springs to think about this: If a new jail facility is the cause in the reduction of crime as Chief Stachey asserts, then why are cities and counties throughout the United States not building new detention facilities to take advantage of this new-found crime stopper? Common sense should answer that question.
Reading David Showers’ article pushed me to conduct some research related to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. I noticed that there was no data available for the Hot Springs PD for 2014 and subsequently, no data submitted for 2015.
If there was a reduction in crime during the past year in the City of Hot Springs as David Showers’ article points out, then citizens and visitors of Hot Springs should be comforted: Should they not? Again, as a Garland County citizen and frequent visitor to Hot Springs, I believe the real question that should be asked and answered by Chief Stachey is: How does crime compare to other cities in Arkansas of similar size to Hot Springs?
With that question in mind, I took the liberty to compare FBI UCR statistics from 7 cities in Arkansas that have populations within 15,000 of Hot Springs. The crime rate for the City of Hot Springs, compared to those cities, was exceedingly higher for the selected years of 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. For example, in 2013, the last year that statistics were published by the FBI UCR for Hot Springs PD, my study showed:
|Crimes||+ or –||+ or –||
|+ or –||Thefts||+ or –||Crimes||+ or –|
Readers may ask: Why are the FBI UCR statistics important to our community? The answer is that they provide accessible crime statistics to the public for our review and consumption. The process of searching for these statistics is simple: First, search for FBI Uniform Crime Reporting – Crime in the US; next, insert the year that you are interested in (i.e. 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 or 2015); then go to Offense Tables (Arkansas) and finally; click on Table 8 (cities) and Table 10 (counties).
One other important note in the 2013 FBI – Uniform Crime Report for the City of Hot Springs is the fact that 7 murders were reported. Hot Springs had more murders in 2013 than all seven compared cities combined. The collective murder rate for all cities was six, with Jacksonville reporting 3 murders in 2013.
On January 19, 2016, then Acting-Chief Stachey spoke at a City of Hot Springs Board of Directors meeting about the fact that the Hot Springs PD did not show FBI UCR statistics for 2014. Chief Stachey was captured on camera taking a tough stance on the issue saying there was an information technology (IT) error with the records management system (RMS) company contracted, Spillman Technology Inc., which was the cause of the problem. Chief Stachey stated this was “not acceptable” and that he was taking steps to rectify this issue. Chief Stachey further stated, “We have got to get our stats to the FBI.”
Eleven months later, on November 15, 2016, a citizen once again appeared before the Board of Directors and asked why the Hot Springs PD statistics were not submitted to the FBI UCR for 2015. When this citizen finished, Mayor Carney asked Chief Stachey if he wanted to respond, to which Chief Stachey stated, “If the board has any questions, I would be glad to.” I found it odd that the Board of Directors, along with City Manager David Frasher, both of whom are supposed to represent the people of Hot Springs, failed to ask Chief Stachey any questions or remind him of his January 19th commitment. Chief Stachey’s comments can be viewed by: Accessing www.cityhs.net; then clicking How do I?; then clicking View City Board meeting videos; then clicking View Past City Board meetings; finally, go to the date requested.
Where are the 2015 FBI UCR statistics for the City of Hot Springs? Obviously, the problem was not fully resolved which should raise serious questions to the tax-paying citizens of Hot Springs. If the problem lies with the current RMS, are steps being taken to review the contract and services provided by Spillman Technology Inc.? Are other RMS companies being interviewed? Again, more questions than answers.
Being engaged in current events, I would like to comment briefly about the issue of annexation. If one is to believe that the FBI Uniform Crime Reports are indeed accurate, how can the City of Hot Springs provide adequate and proper policing services to the newly annexed areas if it appears the police department is challenged to service their existing area of responsibility, as evidenced by the statistics provided in the earlier chart? A more precise question to the elected officials is with the reduction of Hot Springs’ citizens from 2000 until 2013 (FBI UCR data: 40,633 to 35,551 or a 14% drop): Is annexation being used as a “land grab”? This term was coined by State Representative Bruce Cozart in a separate article written by David Showers on December 3, 2016. As a concerned citizen, my fear is that annexation may lead to a geometric progression of municipal problems for the City of Hot Springs. It cannot be presumed that it will be more economical for Hot Springs to provide services to a larger area.
On the Hot Spring Website (www.cityhs.net, Proposed Enclave Annexation) under the Police Section, it reads: Coverage will begin on the effective date of annexation. The Hot Springs Police Department is AACP accredited and is a leader among law enforcement agencies in the state and region. Although my heart goes out to all law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line everyday to safeguard our well-being, questions must be asked to Chief Stachey: As a “leader among law enforcement agencies in the state and region”, why is the crime in Hot Springs so high compared to other cities its same size? A follow-up question would be if there is an immediate need, the day of annexation, to provide additional coverage, will the Hot Springs PD be able to tout a 21.9% reduction in criminal offenses in years to come?
As a Garland County citizen with strong ties to the City of Hot Springs, I urge hard questions be asked to our elected and appointed leaders: (1) Is Hot Springs a safe place to live, work, shop or play?; (2) What plan does Hot Springs top-cop have to combat crime?; (3) Does Chief Stachey have a plan to address one of the biggest problems faced by law enforcement executives at every level, the recruitment and retention of officers?; (4) Is there a retention problem in keeping officers at the Hot Springs PD and if so, is that affecting morale and/or crime rates?; (5) Will the Hot Springs PD correct the problem that caused no statistics to be reported to the FBI in 2014-2015?; (6) If 2016 UCR statistics are made available, will those statistics fall in line with David Showers’ article which indicate 21.9% fewer criminal offenses?
Being a college graduate, wife, mother, grandmother, medical professional and active member of my community, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” I hope that our elected and appointed leaders provide solutions to the problems that face our community. If not, I view them as part of the problem, and as such, would strongly advocate more robust representation in the next election.