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LRPD: People and prayer can help address violent crime

Police would like to see citizens get involved in aid to areas plagued by violence

Published: July 22, 2017   
Aprille Hanson
Sgt. Jonathan Prater, who works in public affairs for the Little Rock Police Department, discusses recent violence in the city to Pax Christi members July 13 at St. John Center in Little Rock.

With the recent uptick in violence in Little Rock, police Sgt. Jonathan Prater spoke at St. John Center on some of issues underlying violent crime and the need for prayer.

Prater was a guest speaker July 13 at the monthly meeting for Pax Christi Little Rock, a chapter of the national Catholic social justice organization that promotes peace. Prater spent nine years on patrol before working in public affairs for the Little Rock Police Department, providing firsthand knowledge of what the average officer deals with on the streets.

The police department has 593 positions and 76 vacancies since June 30. The department is authorized for 144 civilian positions and has 29 vacancies, 19 of them in communications, people answering 911 calls.

In the Downtown division, homicides went up by 117 percent from Jan. 1-June 26. During the first six months of 2017, there were 17 homicides, compared to six last year, Prater, 34, said.

Building off of the troubling statistics, Prater bluntly emphasized the Little Rock Police Department is having to deal with gang violence and people unwilling to reveal who has committed crimes; unemployment in youth and young adults, giving them ample time to turn to crime; single parents who cannot control their children; and a “revolving door” of arrests and releases for the mentally ill.

“We have no resources for mental illness. Our resource is to put them in Pulaski County Jail. Pulaski County Jail’s solution is to let them back out. You can’t blame them. Unless they’re in there for something major, they’re going to get back out,” he said.

The recent plague of drive-by shootings can be linked to the drug problem in Little Rock, where heroin is “coming back,” Prater said.

“The drug problem here in Little Rock is so prevalent. It’s one of the main causes that are driving murders. These drive-by shootings,” he said. “These drive-by shootings are targeted, they’re not random … they are going and shooting at a certain house for a certain person. Now innocent people get hit.”

Prater said the beginning of the drive-bys can be traced to Nov. 22, 2016, when a 2-year-old was shot and killed in a vehicle.

“We cannot get witnesses or victims to tell us who is doing it … That is one of the great hurdles we are trying to overcome. They don’t feel safe,” from gang retaliation,” he said. 

Father Warren Harvey, the only black diocesan priest in the Diocese of Little Rock, said he hears stories often from the communities he’s served, like Pine Bluff, Sheridan and North Little Rock, about parishioners — even his brother — who have been stopped by police for seemingly no other reason than their skin color.

“It creates a lot of anxiety, often anger, amongst people of color and minorities when we experience that,” Father Harvey said.

Prater said the Little Rock Police Department strictly forbids racial profiling and if a complaint is filed, it is investigated by internal affairs “outside of that officer’s chain of command.”

For undocumented immigrants scared to report crimes, he emphasized that “I know the chief has said we do not enforce federal immigration laws. And I’m glad that we don’t, I don’t want to go drag anybody out of their house … That is not our job. We don’t care if you’re illegal or not.”

There are several ways LRPD has reached out to the community, including with school resource officers and the Police Youth Live in Little Rock summer camp.

“We had 119 kids go through that and that’s all about doing activities with police officers,” he said. “We’re trying to make people understand we’re just people.”

Father Harvey said he’s visited juvenile jail, encountering children as young as 12 and 13 saying, “please will you come to court with me.”

“One thing our Pope Francis has said we got to get outside the box, I think that’s what I hear you saying,” Father Harvey said to Prater, adding “I pray for you every day.” “… I think we have to do our part and not just sit in our little safe neighborhood and not get outside our box.”

Prater said it’s a great idea to show that child that “somebody cares.”

“I know many times when I go to juvenile court to testify, the parents won’t show up,” Prater said. “… That’s why we see most of these kids collected up into gangs. They’re looking for acceptance, they’re not getting it at home ... That’d be great if the church could take that role.”

While there’s no cure-all crime deterrent, Prater said people of faith can pray and be present in communities that need it the most.

“We need to be praying for our city,” he said. “I know in Southwest Little Rock especially, a lot of the churches have been trying to get out into those worst neighborhoods. ... Any positive contact, even if it’s not from police, I think would help.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Father Warren Harvey’s name. This article has been updated.

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