Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

TOP STORY > >Public relations, permanent areas help fight crime

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Police Chief Gary Sipes said Tuesday that his department is working hard to lower the crime rate in the city through permanent patrol areas, working with the public and adding new weapons to the force.

“We’ve gone to permanent districts, which keeps the same officers in the same area and makes them more aware of who and what should or shouldn’t be there,” the chief explained. “This gives us an advantage,” he said.

Sipes, who was the Benton police chief before taking the same position in Jacksonville in April, said he was not happy with the 2007 crime statistics that showed Jacksonville had a higher incident of violent crime than the surrounding cities of Sherwood,
Cabot, Lonoke, Ward and Beebe.

Looking at what the state classifies as violent crimes—murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault—Jacksonville had nine violent incidents in 2007 per 1,000 population.

Sherwood, Cabot, Ward and Beebe each came in at five violent incidents per thousand, while Lonoke was at four incidents per thousand.

Jacksonville suffered through one of its worse murder rates in years in 2007 with five homicides and has had three so far this year.

The good news, according to the chief, is that all the homicides have been solved.

Sipes added, “We are getting out in the public more than in the past and building a stronger relationship with the public.” The chief said the department participated in three National Night Out events last week—one in Sunnyside, one in Foxwood and one in Base Meadows—and the response was excellent at all three events.

The chief said the department is also exploring the possibility of going to 12-hours shifts, which would mean more patrols on the streets at a time.

Capt. Charlie Jenkins, a spokesman for the department, said the officers have voted in favor of the idea. “This will increase the number of offices on a shift, so when one or two are responding to a call, we still have some on patrol.”

The chief isn’t sure yet when the department will go to the longer shifts. “It’s something we are exploring.”

The department has also recently purchased Taser weapons, which shoot out an electrical charge to stun suspects and all patrol officers have been trained on the use of the shock weapon.

“This is the first time that we’ll have these electronic control units,” Sipes explained. “And it will help bring our officer injuries down because the officers will not likely have to put hands on a combative individual.”

In the months since taking over Sipes has said, “The best thing that I have found about the department is the number of dedicated officers and staff that want to work here and serve the city.

“These guys have the opportunity to go to larger departments in central Arkansas and make more money, but they chose to stay here,” he continued.

That means a lot to the chief whose three sons all attended Jacksonville High School and live close by.

He believes that dedication, along with building a stronger relationship with the residents will do a lot to help lower the crime rate.

Sipes is also proud that the department will be sponsoring its first Citizens Police Academy in September.

“We are looking to have 25 to 30 residents in the class. They will meet one night a week for eight weeks and get a good inside look at the department,” he said.

The chief went on to explain, “You know sometimes you see an officer do something that doesn’t make a bit of sense to the normal citizen but we do things for a reason. I want to educate our citizens as best as we can so they have a positive image about their department.”

The chief also said he is pushing training.

“Our officers will receive and attend every training opportunity that presents itself. The Criminal Justice Institute offers us excellent opportunities at no cost and I’ll take advantage of it,” he said.

Sipes, who has been married for 32 years and has three grown sons, started his police career when he was 18 as a cadet with the North Little Rock Police Department.

He became a NLR police officer when he turned 21 and worked every division in the department before he retired in April 1999 and became the director for the city’s code-enforcement department.

In 2004, he was selected to head up the Benton Police Department. Just before that, he was a finalist for the open police chief job in Jacksonville left vacant by the departure of Wayne Ruthven, who became state homeland security chief but was soon pushed out.

Capt. Robert Baker was selected as chief and ran the force until his retirement in March.

Two of Sipes’ sons have followed him into law enforcement. One is a NLR police officer and the other is a Pulaski County deputy.