Today, I would like to talk about the national increase in violent crime, and what we are doing to combat that here in Arkansas.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world felt like it came to a halt while we dealt with the issues of public health. But violent crime did not slow down. In fact, violent crime actually increased since 2018. Homicides in Arkansas were 224 that year, but in 2020, the number was 310, an increase of 38 percent. All this is according to data from the Arkansas Crime Information Center.
Government has no greater responsibility than to assure public safety, and at the state level, we are taking several measures to address this increase in crime and the current threat to public safety.
First, we have tangibly shown our support of our law enforcement.
I signed into law a $5,000 bonus for every certified full-time police officer in the state. We raised the salaries of our state troopers and have expanded the number of positions at the Arkansas State Crime Lab to accelerate rape-kit testing. Finally, we also allocated money to enlarge the prison at Calico Rock.
The prison expansion is necessary because our local court system does not have enough flexibility or adequate space in the county jails due to the lack of space in our prison system.
This last week, based on recommendations by Secretary Solomon Graves and the Division of Community Correction, I announced the expansion of the Intensive Supervision Program.
This expansion will add officers to a team dedicated to providing a higher level of support and supervision to those who pose a higher risk of violent crimes.
These are those that have spent time in prison and released on parole. We want them to get a second start in life, and our ultimate goal is to help them do that. But you have an element of those who pose a greater risk than others, and the design of the Intensive Supervision Program is to focus on those high-risk offenders.
I have asked the General Assembly to approve $1 million in funding for this initiative. It will cover new positions at a five-county area in Central Arkansas. This initiative will help keep our streets safer and curb violent crime.
It is a dangerous but important time to be in law enforcement as violent crime is on the increase. Our need to support the men and women who put their lives at risk increases every day.
I want officers to know we support them, and we want to make their job as safe as it can be.