Gov. Asa Hutchinson held a press conference today (Aug 22) to address efforts to reduce violent crime, as well as the recent Crawford County incident, in which a video showed three officers beating a suspect.
The main concern of his address was the recent surge in violent crime in Central Arkansas, particularly Little Rock. Though the responsibilities of law enforcement fall primarily on local jurisdictions, Hutchinson outlined ways in which the state government is working to support crime reduction efforts, within its specific and limited powers to do so.
Hutchinson established the Gang Enforcement Task Force following the Power Ultra shooting in 2017, coordinating federal and state authorities to combat gang violence. More recently, he and the state legislature have set aside $75 million to build a new jail and reduced the county jail backup by roughly 30%, as well as giving extra funding to the court system to hire more prosecutors and public defenders to reduce court backlog and delay.
Going forward, the state will be favoring greater mental health support, for example, “crisis stabilization units,” which will allow the police to divert prisoners from prison to these units where they can receive the mental assistance they need. To these ends are four units so far, and Governor Hutchinson has requested the General Assembly funding for a fifth. He also stated that $1 billion in funding is being made available for an “intensive supervision” program in Central Arkansas to subdue those who are on parole for aggravated offenses, which has already resulted in a drastic increase in felon firearm seizures.
In addressing the Crawford County incident, Governor Hutchinson said: “First of all, that is reprehensible conduct in which a suspect is beaten in that fashion. We saw some of that, it is under investigation, we don’t have all of the details, and certainly that suspect had a history of concern that was legitimate for the officers. But that response was not consistent with the training they received as certified officers with the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy. That will be investigated by the State Police.” The US Attorney and the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice will be conducting a separate investigation into the incident.
Governor Hutchinson stated that the Sheriff of Crawford County promised cooperation, and praised the Sheriff’s choice of suspending (with pay) the officers involved, saying the offers were held “to a high standard, immediate action was taken, and that was important for the public to see that in this case.”
“This was not what our law enforcement community represents,” the governor continued, “it’s not the proper response, and they will be reviewed and appropriate action taken consistent with what the investigation… results in.”
This was followed by a statement from Secretary Graves of the Department of Corrections, who underscored Gov. Hutchinson’s points on the intensive supervision program, and a statement by Arkansas State Police Director Colonel William Bryant on the activities of the state police to assist other law enforcement entities with combating violent crime.