Police data show crime in Little Rock fell by 4.9 percent last year, a decrease driven by fewer property crimes in each statistical category and a significant decrease in robberies.
There were 16,494 criminal activities that police reported in 2014, down from 17,362 the previous year.
Mayor Mark Stodola said Thursday during his annual State of the City address that the number of criminal reports last year was the lowest in two decades.
"It is still too many. However, we are going in the right direction -- down -- in many areas," he said.
Certain crimes tracked by police -- aggravated assault, rape and homicide -- increased in Little Rock last year. Police Chief Kenton Buckner said the communities most affected by those crimes remained the same.
"There's no secret that most of our violent acts -- when you're talking about shootings, when you're talking about these violent assaults and homicides -- are individuals of color, specifically African-Americans," said Buckner, who is black. "It's very well-noted that much of the challenges that we have with the Little Rock community lie within our urban minority areas."
Robberies in Little Rock decreased 26.85 percent in 2014, in part because they were higher than usual the previous year. The were 741 holdups last year compared with 1,013 in 2013 and 862 in 2012.
Burglaries fell for a third straight year in 2014, decreasing 14.94 percent from 2,904 to 2,470.
After hovering slightly above 1,000 for three years, vehicle thefts dropped to 887.
And there were four fewer incidents of larceny in 2014 than the 10,228 reported the previous year.
Larceny, or theft of personal property, increased in the police downtown and northwest divisions last year, but that was outweighed by a 19.8 percent drop in the southwest division.
Buckner said he had no explanation for the ebb and flow of certain crime data.
"Because there's so many variables that could potentially be an indicator or an aggravating reason for some of these things happening, anyone who can tell you that they can point to tangible reasons as to why crime went up or crime went down is either naive or they're lying to you. Because if we understood the patterns of crime -- what caused them, what could be a mitigator, what is an aggravator -- then you probably wouldn't need a chief of police to try to manage it. In most days, the best we can do is to try to keep the environment safe for the individuals who occupy these areas," he said.
Aggravated assaults -- an attempt or threat to cause serious bodily harm -- increased 3.4 percent last year from 1,869 to 1,934. It's the third year in a row that figure has risen.
There were 44 homicides in the city last year, up from 36 in 2013 and equal to the number of slayings in 2012.
Most of the homicides involved people who knew each other. Police classified 37 of the slayings as "domestic" or "victim known to suspect." Six of the homicides were robbery-related, while another six were connected to drugs. Two involved gangs, according to police.
Circumstances of eight of the slayings remained unclear.
"The most livable side of our city will say this was a good year," Buckner said. "We decreased crime. But the areas in the most dangerous part of the city ... there were 44 individuals killed. So I don't know how you can call that a good year. Because the family that lost a 19-year-old son doesn't feel like we had a good year with our crime."
Crime-wise, a good year in Little Rock is a bad year in other cities.
A Democrat-Gazette analysis shows that between 2009 and 2013, Little Rock's crime figures were higher in most statistical categories than the four American cities closest to it in population. The data come from the U.S. Census Bureau and the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report.
Akron, Ohio; Fayetteville, N.C.; and Columbus, Ga., each have slightly higher populations than Little Rock's estimated 197,357. Amarillo, Texas, is smaller by 928 residents.
Over the five-year period, each city reported at least 49 percent fewer aggravated assaults; 45 percent fewer homicides; 36 percent fewer robberies; and 28 percent fewer larcenies than Little Rock.
Akron was the only city to report more rapes -- 23 percent more -- than Little Rock in that time. It also reported 10 percent more burglaries.
Fayetteville reported 15 percent more burglaries, while Columbus logged 10 percent more vehicle thefts.
The cities voluntarily reported the statistics to the FBI. Figures for 2014 were unavailable.
Four cities in the sampling, including Little Rock, had an average annual household income between $41,000 and $46,000, lower than the national average. The poverty rate in those cities was between 17 and 20 percent, higher than the U.S. average.
Akron had the lowest average household income of the group, $33,909 per year. It had the highest poverty rate, 27.5 percent.
But its overall crime rate was still lower than Little Rock's.
Buckner said he didn't know why Little Rock has seen more crime than comparable cities. Or in Akron's case, as some criminologists have argued, a city that should be more prone to crime because of low income and poverty.
"I would want to look at them across the board and see what the police practices are in those communities, what kind of operational things are they doing," Buckner said. "Are they reactive or are they proactive?"
Buckner said that Little Rock police fall into the former category. He said the agency is "pretty much operating from our heels."
"We take a lot of reports and we investigate things after they happen. Very little of our operation is from a proactive standpoint, which I'm in the process of trying to change some of that... But if you have no element or significant element of your department that's offensive -- going out into hot spots, that's going out into hot spots looking for specific individuals proactively before they commit a crime -- that's when you will see this year, after year, after year of historic numbers that's frustrating to everyone," he said.
While the numbers don't stack up well against similar cities, they do mirror a steady decrease of crime across the country. Nationwide, violent crime has fallen 51 percent and property crime 43 percent since 1991, according to federal research cited by the Brennan Center for Justice.
The Brennan Center, a public policy institute, released a study last month that showed various social, economic and environmental factors have played a role in the decline. The spread of police CompStat programs, which use crime data to identify patterns and target resources, also had a significant effect.
Metro on 03/20/2015