The Hot Springs Police Department recently announced the implementation of a new Violent Crime Reduction Strategy, but Police Chief Chris Chapmond told The Sentinel-Record "the processes we're putting into place can be used to address any crime problem we have anywhere in the city."
"That's what we've lacked over the years, really, is a comprehensive approach to how we address things," he said. "We feel like, after a lot of conversation with staff, and some input from the public about their concerns, that this strategy will help us moving forward in addressing some of the issues that we all know we have."
One component of the new initiative is the addition of a civilian-based criminal intelligence specialist, Kristen Brown, a former public service assistant in the department who was promoted internally to the position and began her new duties Monday.
"She has a tech background and was the cream of the crop out of the 20 or so applicants we had," Chapmond said, noting she will be getting more training as she goes but is already "very familiar with what we're looking for."
Brown "will be tasked with identifying trends and putting together plans where we efficiently deploy our resources," he said. "One of our goals is for a patrol officer to walk out of this building every day with a plan, not just to go out and turn street corners. We want to have a proactive approach to addressing the crime issues."
The implementation of the Compstat Management Dashboard by Spillman Technologies Inc., which integrates with the department's current report management system, will allow for the collection and interpretation of data and will use predictive analysis and intelligence-based policing so officers can more efficiently do their job, he said.
"This is something we've talked about for a number of years at the department, but were never able to actually implement it. We re-prioritized some funds in the 2020 budget that allowed us to go ahead and make that purchase. We felt it was that important. It's up and running and it's for our entire RMS," Chapmond said.
"Kristen will be able to correlate and collect that data and disseminate that data and go through there and identify trends, be able to produce heat maps, correlate the times when things are more likely to happen. It allows us to go through all the data we collect all day long, every report, every traffic stop, and to review that data and put it into workable information for our officers."
Brown "will be on the ground floor of all that," he said, noting he has heard their new strategy referred to as "big city policing" but stressed "this is just smart policing."
Everything they have implemented in the strategy "is being used across the country. Maybe it's being used all together like we're proposing or maybe certain parts of it are being used in different locations, but we want to put it all together and be able to more efficiently and effectively police our community," he said.
"This is about working relationships with other stakeholders to address the violent crime problem using the different resources available through federal prosecution and state prosecution to better work these issues."
Through the department's partnership with Garland County Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Lawrence and the U.S. attorney's office, it has the option of prosecuting suspects in either state or federal court, he said, and Lawrence has assigned one of her state attorneys to work directly with the U.S. attorney's office.
Lawrence "is the only prosecutor in the Western District to do this," Chapmond said.
Another new component planned is using automatic license plate readers, which Chapmond stressed are "not citation cameras. That's not what these are for. They are to help identify vehicles in high crime areas and to allow us to track information. If we have a shots fired call in a certain area, these cameras will maybe pick up the vehicle license (of the suspect). We can review the footage and see every license plate that came through that area at that time."
He said some of the readers will be mobile, mounted on patrol cars, and some will be stationary, noting, "It's another tool in the toolbox we can use to help us more effectively investigate a variety of crimes. We're in the process of researching and bidding those now. We're gathering all that up."
Cpl. Patrick Langley, the department's public information officer, said while they will be recording some license plates, "there is not some overall database of plates or anything like that. I don't want anybody to get confused about that. Say we don't have a description of a suspect or anything like that but we encounter some vehicles while we're on the way to a scene, we can go back and look at those."
Similar to the intersection cameras already in use, the cameras will be "placed in areas we've identified for investigative purposes. By no means are we the only agency using this technology, it's being used across the country," Chapmond said.
"Based on the circumstances we're under, it's harder and harder to hire people so you have to work smarter. Technology allows us to do that. It's a force multiplier. It allows us to take our investigative expertise to the next level, so to speak."
Another component they plan to add is ShotSpotter, an acoustic surveillance system, that detects, locates and alerts police of gunfire incidents in real time and provides data to the dispatch center, patrol cars and even officers' smartphones with the precise location of a shooting event.
Chapmond noted since the first of the year they have responded to 600 separate shots fired incidents "and this piece of technology will allow us to respond faster, to a more precise location and in a safer manner."
The HSPD has also joined the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, which is a "database for firearms and shell casings," Chapmond said. "It allows us to identify a weapon so if it's been used in multiple shootings, we can link those cases together. We can get a hit from anywhere that firearm is on file."
He said they have been using NIBIN for "well over a year, but when you add all these other things in, it builds that whole comprehensive approach. There's not a single piece of this by itself that will solve any of our issues but we feel that when we put all of this together, we're going to address our crime issues more efficiently and overall police our community in a better way."
Asked about the costs of the new strategy, Chapmond said, "We prioritized some existing funding and identified money in our upcoming budget we can use and we're also applying for grants to purchase equipment or fund positions."
He stressed their crime-fighting strategy is not "just technology-based. We're going to continue to use our community policing approach and a huge part of this will be our continued outreach programs to educate the community on ongoing issues. We're going to develop the mentoring at-risk youth initiative. So hopefully we can be involved in some of these young men and women's lives early on to affect positive change."
"It's a holistic approach to crime reduction," Langley said.
The strategy will be implemented over the next three to six months and "there are parts of it currently being done as we speak. There are portions of it where obviously we have to purchase some equipment and implement that, but we're doing some of these things now and not everything is new," Chapmond said.
"The staff did a great job of conducting research and identifying things that we felt would allow us the best opportunity to address these issues. We also had fantastic support from the city manager in implementing new ideas and strategies," he said.
"We believe at the end of the day, a year from now, we'll be able to show some results that will prove the value of doing it this way," Chapmond said. "We're basically putting together a new game plan so we can play the best game possible."