Little Rock police see 2020 jump in violent crime

Officers’ records show cityon pace to hit 10-year highs

Violent crime this year in Little Rock is on a pace to reach 10-year highs.

With nearly two months remaining in the year, Little Rock police have recorded a 10-year high for aggravated assaults and the second-highest number of homicides, with 44, since 2010.

Violent crime -- including homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults -- has trended upward since 2010, with this year already surpassing 2019.

Authorities have been monitoring many unforeseen consequences of the covid-19 pandemic, including domestic abuse incidents going unreported and the caravanning issues the city wrestled with over the summer, according to Little Rock police spokesman Lt. Casey Clark.

"Just like the cruising and car problems that we've had in the city, especially on Asher," Clark said. "Not that we haven't had car issues in the past and cruisers and people who race and things like that, but we definitely have never had it to the extent we had it this year."

Clark said the increase in violent crime has a lot of different potential factors, and the pandemic may be one of them.

"If you have a normal family that might not spend a few hours a day together but now they're in the same house for weeks and months, sometimes that exaggerates some of the issues that are there. And if they don't have any coping mechanisms, that could lead to more violent crime," Clark said.

Total violent crime through October reached 3,021 incidents, making it the second-highest in the decade behind only 2017, when there were 3,276 incidents for the year. If continued at the same pace, violent crime would surpass the 2017 statistic by the end of November.

"We noticed, it wasn't quite twice what it was, but a pretty marked increase in our aggravated assaults, but as of about a month ago no real huge jump in the number of homicides that we'd had compared to last year," Clark said. "Now we've had a few more homicides since then, which has made our numbers come up some."

October's five homicides brought the total for the year above 2019's total of 43 and tied for the third-highest amount in one month this year, with April and June the only ones ahead.

The totals have still fallen since the 1990s, Clark said, alluding to a time that he said was much more overtly violent.

"Things were much more violent, a lot more overt in the '90s," Clark said. "I can remember times, especially in the summertime, when we'd have a couple of homicides and at least four or five shootings a night, and of course that goes into the gang mentality and how that culture has evolved."

Gangs have changed significantly in the past few decades, according to Clark, who said those who participate in gang activity identify themselves differently than in years past.

"They learned in the gang scene that you get a lot less attention on you when you don't wear [colors], and it's not as geographically locked in as it was," Clark said. "And so many factors play into that. Social media, cellphones, so many things that we didn't have at the time that have enabled gangs, criminal enterprises to not be so bound to locations."

The trend in violent crime runs counter to property crime -- burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts. Property crime numbers in Little Rock, with just over 10,000 incidents through October, are on a similar pace as last year, which saw a 10-year low of 12,203.

The dramatic drop may also have something to do with the covid-19 pandemic and people being on their property a lot more, according to Clark.

"It is more than likely a direct result of the pandemic," Clark said. "Basically, most people have been home since March, so it has made it a lot more difficult to steal, as property crimes are usually crimes of opportunity."

The violent crime problem is not isolated to Little Rock. Across the river, North Little Rock has broken a 10-year high for homicides with 18, including two double homicides.

The increase cannot be easily predicted, according to police spokesman officer Joe Green, because homicides don't usually follow a pattern.

"Being a homicide detective for 10 years prior to taking over this job, you never know what goes into somebody's mind when they commit a homicide," Green said. "Just looking at these [2020 homicides], these are just one-offs. There's no pattern to say 'hey, this is what's going on,' and the areas they're occurring in are all over the city. You can't put a definitive answer on why."

Both Clark and Green echoed the idea that most violent crimes are committed by people who know the victims.

"Most crimes are opportunistic. They just happen," Green said. "Most crimes that do occur, most people know each other, and that's just the way it is."

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