JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A first-of-its-kind task force has been formed in the state of Arkansas.
Police chiefs, prosecutors and other officials announced the task force for the 2nd Judicial District at a news conference on Friday.
The 2nd Judicial District encompasses Craighead, Greene, Clay, Mississippi, Poinsett and Crittenden counties.
“This is the next generation of crime fighting,” Jonesboro Police Chief Rick Elliott said during the conference.
Elliott first made the announcement of the task force’s formation while speaking to the Jonesboro City Council regarding two murders in Jonesboro during the first two days of the year.
During Friday’s news conference, Elliott said gang activity in the area has increased. “It’s bigger than we thought,” he said.
“The reality of it is that it’s not a city-specific problem,” Elliott told reporters. “Criminals have vehicles and they come from around the region to commit crimes in Jonesboro and vice versa.”
Over 15 agencies in Northeast Arkansas are working together to keep a common database updated that all partner agencies can access.
“By bringing in multiple agencies and everybody sharing information and identifying people in criminal investigations and putting it into a simple database that we can all access... we can utilize that information to help clear cases,” Elliott said.
The need for the partnership was highlighted by the two murders in the city of Jonesboro during the first week of 2019.
Markus Gentry of Blytheville was arrested for the Jan. 1 murder of Lewis C. Gamble at a barbershop on West Huntington Avenue.
Flando Montgomery, 19, of Crittenden County and 21-year-old Taurus Bedford of Turrell were arrested in connection to the Jan. 2 shooting on Galaxy Street that left a 16-year-old dead and three others injured.
The partnership is already working and having a larger reach than just the 2nd Judicial District.
During the news conference, Chief Elliott said JPD has cleared some investigations in Jonesboro with the help from officers in Memphis. He said MPD officers contacted JPD regarding tips on crimes happening in Jonesboro.
“Criminal displacement is not crime fighting,” Blytheville Police Chief Ross Thompson said during the news conference. “We run an operation in Blytheville and they move to Jonesboro. You guys chase them in Jonesboro and they come back to Osceola. We’re tired of that. We want them out of our area, period.”
The task force will also include U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Cody Hiland, as local police departments work to push more federal cases.
“As a United States Attorney, this is one of my favorite things to do,” Hiland said referencing the partnership with the new task force. “Real partnerships produce real results.”
Hiland said his office will help prosecute federal cases to help lock up repeat offenders for a longer period of time.
“Repeat offenders, which is what we’re going after, are educated,” Hiland said. “They know the system better than some of us and they know what their exposure is and they’re not afraid, right now, of a state felony possession charge.”
Hiland said using federal charges can bring tougher sentences.
His office has been utilizing Special Assistant United States Attorneys to help with an increased workload. His office also uses deputy prosecutors who are licensed to be federal attorneys to help prosecute gun crimes.
The following agencies are involved in the task force:
-2nd Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney
-Jonesboro Police Department
-Craighead County Sheriff’s Office
-Arkansas State University Police Department
-Arkansas State Police
-Blytheville Police Department
-Osceola Police Department
-Poinsett County Sheriff’s Office
-Paragould Police Department
-West Memphis Police Department
-Trumann Police Department
-Craighead County Juvenile Office
-Mississippi County Juvenile Office
-AR Department of Community Corrections
-U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas
-Federal Bureau of Investigation
-Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
-Department of Homeland Security