Forum encourages teamwork in combating region’s gang activity

Officials hold public forum about the region’s gang activity

JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Multiple city and county officials are working together to fight crime in Northeast Arkansas, specifically gang-related cases. The 2nd Judicial District Organized Crime Activity Task Force (OCATF) hosted its first public forum to educate the community on gang crime.

The Task Force was formed to combat crime during a time where the city of Jonesboro saw an uptick in violence including two homicides by the third day of the new year.

“We don’t want to people to panic over it but be concerned. Face it, gang activity has been around in this country for years and criminal activity has been around in everybody’s community,” Jonesboro Police Chief Rick Elliot said.

According to Craighead County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Grant DeProw, the idea behind the OCATF came about back in 2017 after juveniles broke into a pawn shop and stole 64 guns. A name, in that case, reoccurred in many others; confirming to officials this may be a gang-related crime.

The task force is comprised of more than 20 law enforcement agencies.

Together, they cover over six counties in Northeast Arkansas.

Chief Elliot said no matter where you live, gang crime is something that affects us all.

“No matter how big or how small your community is, it’s a problem. The bigger the community, the bigger the problem," he said.

The force also sat down with all superintendents in these counties and their school resource officers to work on keeping students away from gangs. He believes gangs start recruitment at the schools for students around the age of 16.

“It’s an awareness thing and it goes back to what we can do to catch the young child and intercept them from getting involved in this kind of activity,” he said. “After school programs are very important for this community.”

After compiling a database, the force is aware of 505 gang members that are now on probation or parole in this district. According to Elliot, that number completely outnumbers his department, the largest department in NEA.

He says being able to partner with so many agencies has given each department a way to combat this crime in the area.

Community’s Reaction

Around 100 members of the community attended the public meeting. Many asked questions at the end of the presentation on how the city and the community could do a better job at stopping crime.

Jonesboro Social Worker Amanda Emerson posed questions concerning resources to keep individuals from joining gangs.

She believes parents working two jobs need to have resources, just like grandparents raising grandchildren on fixed incomes. She even touched on the topic of having proper resources for those re-entering the community from prison.

“What can we do as a city to increase our resources for people who are coming out of the prison system. We need more affordable housing, we need to help them back on their feet and help them solve their basic needs to keep them off the streets,” Emerson said.

Chief Elliot told Emerson she was right and advised that the city is limited on resources. He called on the help of churches and community groups to get involved.

Others asked to see more video cameras or skycops in their communities. The Jonesboro Police Department confirmed it’s working to install some of those devices if the budget can allow it.

One citizen who spoke from the back of the auditorium asked the chief if the department is understaffed, if so, by how many and what can we do as individuals to help an overstretched police department.

“Are we understaffed? Yes,” Elliot said.

He continued by saying just over a month ago, he needed 30 additional officers. However, if you’d like to help Chief Elliot said the biggest thing you can do is say something when you see something.

Resources available

The meeting also reminded the community of the several resources and ways they could get involved, including the Jonesboro Police Department’s community outreach division. It “encourages neighborhood watch and getting to know your neighbor." That same group also works to create a working relationship between JPD and the community through the Citizen Police Academy. The program has 200 graduates since January of 2015.

If you are a parent concerned about your child’s affiliation with gangs, the task force offered this link here.

For comments, questions or information concerning the 2nd Judicial District Organized Crime Activity Task Force, you can contact Jonesboro Police Department Lt. Kenneth Oldham at koldham@joneboro.org or Craighead County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Charlene Henry at chenry@craigheadcounty.org.

Copyright 2019 KAIT. All rights reserved.