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For police in West Memphis, filling out a report requires time and a trip to the police station. At minimum, officials say, a report can pull an officer off of patrol for between 15 to 30 minutes.

"So I lose them in the field when they're doing their paperwork," said West Memphis police Capt. Joe Baker.

With federal funding, that's expected to change. The West Memphis Police Department plans to use a Department of Justice grant to buy computers for its patrol units, technology the department says will keep police in the community as they fill out reports and will help in the department's efforts to combat violent gun crimes.

The grant, known as the Technology Innovation for Public Safety grant, is one of several federal efforts to support authorities in the Eastern District of Arkansas, which includes both West Memphis and Little Rock.

Officials with the Little Rock Police Department, which received the same grant, said the federal money will help fund a new unit aimed at reducing gun crimes, one of numerous initiatives to reduce violent crime in Arkansas' capital city.

Both West Memphis and Little Rock are also part of the Public Safety Partnership, a Justice Department program designed to enhance support of law enforcement and prosecutors "in the investigation, prosecution, and deterrence of violent crime," particularly crime related to drug trafficking, gangs and gun violence.

Chris Givens, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District, said it's gratifying to see West Memphis working to reduce violent crime.

It's rare, he said last week, for one district to have two Public Safety Partnership cities, adding that Cody Hiland, the U.S. attorney for the district, said that reducing violent crime is his top priority at the moment.

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Last month, the Justice Department announced the district would receive an additional federal prosecutor to focus "exclusively" on violent crime. The added position is for one of 40 new federal prosecutors to work in 27 districts across the nation under the federal program Project Safe Neighborhoods, which U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last fall he would reinvigorate.

In West Memphis, the $455,518 federal grant is expected to pay for computers, software and training, along with other technology for the agency, which is authorized for 84 positions on the force. For the grant application, Baker said, the department had to tie the technology to a crime-reduction strategy.

That strategy, which started at the beginning of February 2017, is focused on curbing violent gun crime in an area of approximately 80 square blocks, according to Baker.

The effort targets "chronic problem offenders" who have violent histories and relationships with guns and gangs, he said. Police chose the targeted area after the department saw an increase in violent gun crimes in that community over the past several years, he said.

"This was an emerging problem," he said, adding that the area was also chosen because it has a lot of single-family dwellings.

Baker reported that the strategy, which is modeled after the Los Angeles Police Department's LASER program, led to a 16 percent drop in violent gun crimes in the first nine months of the effort.

After a full year, the department recorded a 27 percent decrease in violent gun crimes in the target area, he said.

Baker said the department hopes to have computers in the patrol units by mid-summer. The department says the computers will allow officers to fill out reports while they're parked in the community or outside a business, deterring criminal activity from the area.

"With an officer there, nine times out of 10 nobody's going to try anything," said Sgt. Steven Jackson. Right now, the officers have to fill out reports at the police station on East Broadway Boulevard, located in the central part of the city, and sometimes have to wait their turn to get on a computer.

With computers available in patrol vehicles, he said, that should no longer be a problem.

There are other expected benefits, too. Officials say the computers will let police look up information on a person they have come in contact with, instead of relying on a dispatcher to find the information.

Baker said the computer will have benefits for officer safety, as well. With computers, officers will have more information when responding to a call, such as if authorities have been called to the same address recently, he said.

"They can get real-time, immediate access to that data," he said.

Other cities like Little Rock have already capitalized on having computers in their patrol units. Little Rock officers have the ability to run information on people they come in contact with and can work on documents, like accident reports, in their patrol vehicles.

Despite the benefits, Todd Stovall, president of the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police, said many smaller departments in Arkansas don't have the funds to afford laptops in their patrol vehicles. He reported that roughly 75 percent of police departments in Arkansas have 10 officers or fewer.

Stovall, who serves as chief of the Paragould Police Department, said there are less visible expenses associated with laptops in patrol vehicles, such as paying for software and replacement costs.

Metro on 02/19/2018

Print Headline: Federal tech grant to aid police in West Memphis

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