W4Y: The Real Deal on Downtown Crime

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Capital City is grappling to get a grip on crime, citing surges in numbers across areas of the city -- particularly downtown.
At the same time, community groups are asking the public to look at the crime in context and to continue contributing in efforts to combat the violence. 
We took a look at the stats driving the Little Rock Police Department's response, how those numbers are reported, and what they mean for those living and visiting Little Rock.
"This part of town... the Hillcrest area?"
Welcome to downtown Little Rock.
"I would think more of southeast Midtown..."
Many folks in Little Rock are surprised to learn downtown includes the Heights, South Main (SoMa) area, or the 12th Street Corridor.
"Downtown to me... you've got to be east of the Capitol."
"Think of like big buildings, bridges..."
According to the LRPD, that is just a tiny slice of what counts toward downtown crime stats. The LRPD patrols the city in three divisions and reports the crime accordingly.
"We know where some of our issues are and so far, it's continuing. We have to do something to stop it," LRPD Lieutenant Steve McClanahan said.
Downtown has been a big part of the focus, with reportedly record numbers of violent crimes.
"The data is what it is," Lt. McClanahan said. 
At the same time, community groups like the Downtown Little Rock Partnership -- 
"There's a lot of proof in what you see with your own eyes," Gabe Holmstrom, with the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, said.
-- Have been working to combat possibly skewed perceptions that threaten to drive away visitors and community investment.
"You might shy people away from being in a certain area, keep business from thriving," Little Rock resident Elia Hooks said.
"There are preconceived notions about it. I didn't know what it was going to be like," Little Rock visitor Jane Dineen said.
Downtown champions and the LRPD agree crime stats should be considered in context, so people can be informed instead of afraid.
"It is a mindset that I continually work to combat. The reality is it's nothing like what some people may perceive it to be," Holmstrom said. 
"It's a huge area. It's from University all the way out past the airport and 440," LRPD officer Ricky Fortner said.
It's true, downtown, as defined by the LRPD, has seen the biggest increase of 30 percent in violent crimes.
When you go deeper, you see 60 percent of murders happened in two of the nine districts (52,54). 70 percent of aggravated assaults occurred within three districts (52,53,54). 
"Hit the hotspots, all the side streets," Officer Fortner said.
They're what police call priority districts, or hot spots, that police are constantly patrolling.
"Violent crime occurring in the downtown where the tall buildings are, that's not a problem," Lt. McClanahan said.
That's not to say crime doesn't happen across the city.
"I think people think we're indifferent to it happening. I patrol this. If something happens in it, there's some responsibility for that," Officer Fortner said.
But according to police, most of these violent crimes aren't random. And many on patrol officers say problems often pop up around locations like liquor stores, for a whole host of reasons.
"We can't do this by ourselves as a police department," Lt. McClanahan said.
The partnership -- known for hosting the Annual Food Truck Festival -- and its downtown ambassadors -- that serve as a liaison with police -- are now asking people to push themselves outside their comfort zones by organizing alley parties with bands and brews in less-frequented areas.
"It was in the East Village next to the railroad tracks. I'd say there's never been 400 people in that parking lot before," Holmstrom said.
They're  encouraging people to explore, support new business, and take advantage of what their downtown has to offer. 
"You live here. This is your city. Let's go see it," Holmstrom said.
Likewise, police say they need the public to help them catch the crooks and drive the crime numbers down.
"That's frustrating for us, because we feel like we could have more progress and get a better grip on this crime if people would work with us," Lt. McClanahan said.
Whether the neighborhood is in the northwest, southwest, or downtown, they're all a part of this city people call home.
As far as crime elsewhere in the city, the same pattern of hot spots holds true for southwest -- two districts account for 80 percent of homicides, and just one district (81) accounts for all violent crimes in the division.
In northwest, one of the districts (64) accounted for 40 percent of homicides and 35 percent of violent crimes.
To follow this story and all of Marci's coverage, click here for Facebook or here for Twitter.
KARK Working 4 You is committed to highlighting issues that are important to Arkansas. If you have a story that needs to be covered, call Reporter Marci Manley on the Working 4 You Tipline at (501) 340-4448 or email at working4you@kark.com.

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