LITTLE ROCK — Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola unveiled Thursday a six-pillar plan for improving public safety in the capital city following a nightclub shooting that left 28 people injured.
Stodola outlined his “LR for Life” plan in a news conference at Little Rock City Hall. He said he, the city directors and the city’s more than 2,300 employees have been listening to residents’ concerns since well before the July 1 shooting at Power Ultra Lounge in downtown Little Rock.
“This is not something that happened overnight because of the shooting at the Ultra Lounge. Listening is something that we do every day as public servants,” he said.
One of the pillars of the plan is stopping the violence. Stodola said groups taking on this goal include the city’s Violent Crime Apprehension Team, which was launched in February to apprehend dangerous offenders; Ceasefire Little Rock, currently a pilot project, which uses people with “street credibility” to interrupt and resolve potentially violent situations; a multi-agency investigative team that Gov. Asa Hutchinson formed after the nightclub shooting; and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Violence Reduction Network, which Little Rock joined in 2015.
Stodola also said the city has applied for several Justice Department grants for public safety projects, will work with prosecutors to crack down on domestic violence, and will target geographic areas with high crime and groups that commit violent acts with focused law enforcement, community outreach and social services.
Another pillar of the plan is strengthening the Little Rock Police Department. Stodola said the city will recruit aggressively to fill vacant positions, including launching a new website and a social media campaign and hiring an advertising and public relations firm to help with the effort.
Stodola also said the city will do more community policing and will use a squad of civilians to handle low-level traffic offenses and administrative work, freeing more officers to respond to calls for service.
The city also will offer a new $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects in any open homicide investigation in the city, he said.
Another pillar of the plan is improving the criminal justice system. Stodola said he has convened a task force of criminal justice professionals that has made the following recommendations:
— Create a domestic violence court that will seek to deter repeat offenses though stiff sanctions and counseling.
— Use electronic monitors to track parolees.
— Pass an ordinance to require video surveillance cameras at certain businesses that are open late at night.
— Increase the number of gun offenses prosecuted in federal rather than state court.
— Seek high bonds for violent offenders.
— Ask the Legislature to pass tougher witness intimidation and bribery laws.
The other three pillars are investing in prevention; promoting jobs, opportunity and education; and rebuilding neighborhoods. Stodola said the city will continue offering and in some cases expand programs to offer positive activities to young people, offer job skills training, provide mentoring to young people, provide services to offenders re-entering society, promote entrepreneurship and fight neighborhood blight.
“We know we cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” he said.
Stodola said after the news conference he did not have an estimate of the plan’s costs but said the city’s budget will cover them.
The Rev. Berry Johnson, president of Arkansas Stop the Violence, said after the news conference he was disappointed the mayor did not discuss Little Rock’s “racial divide.” Johnson also said city leaders did not show as much concern over a series of recent drive-by shootings, some of them fatal, as they did over the high-profile nightclub shooting.
“When it affects the white dollar, then they want to do something,” he said.
Contact John Lyon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @johnlyon09.