Today I’d like to talk about the steps we are taking to reduce violent crime in Arkansas.
In 2017, there was a shooting at the Power Ultra Lounge in Little Rock. It was a senseless, violent tragedy that occurred right here in our capital city, and it caught the attention of everyone.
After that shooting, it was clear more needed to be done. We had to get a better handle on the violence here in Central Arkansas. As a result, I directed the Division of Community Correction to reinstate the Intensive Supervision Program.
This program is composed of officers who monitor high-risk parolees and probationers in Central Arkansas. The officers are able to provide closer supervision on those that have spent time in prison and released on parole and who pose a greater risk than others. Many of these people are just trying to get a second start in life, and we want to be able to help them to do that.
But we knew this would not be enough to cover the caseloads of our most at-risk offenders.
In April of this year, I announced a new expansion of the Intensive Supervision Program, which has funded 10 more officers to manage the workload of supervising of more high-risk offenders in Central Arkansas. This also expanded coverage from Pulaski County to several counties nearby, including Lonoke, Jefferson, Faulkner, and Saline.
The increase in officers, in turn, created a substantial increase in the seizures of firearms and drugs, along with arrests and new charges for parolees.
From January to April of this year, only four officers were available to handle all intensive supervision cases. In that time, there were 28 arrests and four firearm seizures. Since the addition of 10 more officers in April, there have been 109 arrests and 48 firearm seizures.
We have seen encouraging results so far, and the numbers tell the story; the more resources we put into this program, the better they can manage supervising our most at-risk parolees.
I also created the Gang Enforcement Task Force in July 2017. The task force consists of 10 participating agencies and includes authorities from the local, state, and federal levels. For the past five years, the GET Rock Task Force has worked against dangerous gangs and violent drug trafficking organizations every day.
Other steps we are taking to reduce violent crime include the prison expansion at Calico Rock. This expansion, once complete, will provide additional capacity for serious violent offenders within the Department of Corrections. At the first of the year, we had nearly 2,600 state inmates in county jails. After I directed the Department of Corrections to take steps to reduce the backup, we have dropped that number to 2,029 as of August of this year. The extra prison space at Calico Rock will further relieve the pressure on our local jails.
Due to the pandemic, there was a backlog in the state court system, with many cases not being processed. With legislative support, I allocated $1 million for supporting public defenders and prosecutors, which in turn helped move cases along.
This week, to provide more permanent relief to the court system, I have asked the General Assembly to approve $4.5 million for additional state prosecutors, and another $4.5 million for additional public defenders.
I believe the preeminent role of government is to ensure public safety, and violent crime is an issue that must be solved at the local level. But I am committed to providing every available resource to local law enforcement in Arkansas to make our state the best place to live, work, and raise a family.