8 Investigates: CRIME

JONESBORO, AR  (KAIT) –  A Region 8 News investigation of crime statistics shows a positive trend for residents in Jonesboro. Despite the rising population, the violent crime rate has remained flat since 2008. Four out of every 1,000 residents fell victim to violent crime in 2012, according to information in the National Incident-Based Reporting System at the Jonesboro Police Department.

"We're concerned about what kind of crime is going on as well as where it's taking place," said Jonesboro Police Chief Mike Yates. "We're within what we refer to as our standard deviation. It's (crime) fairly normal."

Statistically, Jonesboro is a safer community compared to Memphis and Little Rock. In 2012, Memphis had a violent crime rate of 17 for every 1,000 residents. Little Rock had a rate of 13 for every 1,000 people.

"We're somewhere medium to the low side of medium," said Yates about the crime rate compared to other cities in the U.S.

However, many Region 8 viewers have expressed opinions about Jonesboro's "growing" crime rate. Several individuals have posted comments on social media, stating they believe crime is getting out of control. Based on NIBRS, the numbers are neither better nor worse. They're stable.

"Arrest rate or the rate at which we clear a case and make arrests is extraordinarily high. In general, the media gives a lot of attention to more serious crime because that's news. It can certainly give you the impression over time that there's something crazy going on when the reality of it is, especially with those risk factors per capita, we're on a downward trend," said Yates.

The number of robberies and aggravated assaults from 2008 to 2012 in Jonesboro dropped. There were also reductions in arson, burglary and motor vehicle theft cases. Jonesboro averages more than 3,000 property crimes every year.

"Generally, we see a fairly significant decrease in that. Of course, the total numbers of a particular crime might be up in a given year, but that's not in relation to the crimes per capita," said Yates. "We do have those areas that are going up. A lot of those areas that are on the increase are on the increase because of actions and things that we are doing on the police department side of the house."

One area that appears to have more crime than other areas is around north Jonesboro and the downtown area.

"We have hot spots, or what we call hot spots. Not only do we count the number of a particular crime, we also look at where that crime takes place and we even get into some depth about what time of day," said Yates. "We map our crime geospatially."

According to a 2012 annual report by the Office of Crime Analysis and Criminal Intelligence, most crimes against other people and property crimes have fallen despite economic hardships and substantial population growth. Also, JPD started using a mapping system to put officers closer to criminal activity.

"That's one of the reasons that we spend so much time on the analysis. We're trying to get to the root cause and figure out what things, as a police department, we can we do to effect the root cause of it," said Yates. "If a person chooses to engage in a gang emulating, thug lifestyle and they're involved in drug activity, there's very little the police can do about it. It's a community issue. It's a personal issue. We can only make the environment hostile to that type of activity."

The North Jonesboro Neighborhood Initiative was created to battle crime, and other social problems in the community. Its mission is to get  people involved. Click here to read the 2012 Strategic Plan for the NJNI.

"Probably more than 75% of the homicides we've had since 2005, the victim of the crime was involved in some kind of criminal activity. Their lifestyle was contributing to the likelihood that they would be the victim of a (violent) crime like that," said Yates.

Yates said beefed up patrols won't stop all crime, but more needs to be done to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.

"We're very good at catching people after the fact, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're not going to commit a criminal offense on the front end," said Yates.

Amy Hutson is a volunteer and an advisory board member for the NJNI. She said north Jonesboro hasn't changed much in the last decade.

"There's potential here, but for some reason, we just haven't grabbed it and brought it out," said Hutson, who moved move back to Jonesboro 10 years ago. "It kind of feels like I left; came back, and it really looks the same."

Hutson said her mission is to get residents actively involved in the community. She said it's especially difficult for youth.

"It's easy to beautify, put some flowers out," said Hutson. "But that's not what's going to make things better."

"I just think people are so desperate. When they go apply (for a job), they get knocked down. They're not getting these jobs that they need. They can't pay their bills. I honestly think that that's where it stems from," said Hutson.

Hutson, who is attending Arkansas State University to pursue a degree in political science, organizes community fairs and national night out events. Through such events, people can find all sorts of assistance. She also hopes city leaders look to make north Jonesboro more attractive to industry.

"You can't make people be involved. They have to want it. They have to want to see their community be better," said Hutson. "The best thing to do is to keep an eye on them and encourage them to not get involved in things they know better."

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