An increase of seven crimes was reported in January 2019 compared to a year ago, but both years’ figures are significantly lower than the numbers from 2017.

On Wednesday, during a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant said the seven additional crimes resulted in a total of 368 crimes being reported last month compared to 361 in January 2018, or a 1.94 percent increase.

However, when looking at 2017, there were 447 crimes reported.

“We wanted evidence that we are moving in the right direction,” Sergeant said about comparing not only figures from last year but from two years ago.

Specifically, there were 15 commercial burglaries in January, 18 in January 2018 and 24 in January 2017. A total of 61 residential burglaries were reported last month compared to 63 in January 2018 and 91 in January 2017. Reported thefts stayed the same both last month and in January 2018, standing at 96 each. There were 140 reported thefts in January 2017. The same held true with motor vehicle thefts, with 23 being reported both last month and in January 2018. There were 18 reported in January 2017.

Looking at crimes against persons, 103 simple assaults were reported last month, 115 in January 2018 and 142 in January 2017. Aggravated assaults increased from 21 in January 2017 to 27 in January 2018 and 31 last month, while robberies stayed the same in both 2018 and last month with 11 reported. In 2017, 13 robberies were reported. Rapes and attempted rapes showed four in January 2017, seven in January 2018 and six last month.

There were three murders reported in January compared to one in January 2018 and two in January 2017.

A day before Sergeant reported to the Public Safety Committee, he spoke at Coffee with the Chiefs and recognized Violent Crime Unit Officers Kevin Collins and Kristen Pennington for the work they did in January.

Sergeant said the unit is “driven by data,” which decides where the officers work and when.

“There are no set days off and no schedule,” he said. “These are dedicated individuals who really dig in where there is a problem.”

Collins and Pennington were nominated by their supervisor, Sgt. Jeremy Brown, who said in a report to Capt. Denise Richardson that “For the month of January 2017, Violent Crime Unit Officers Kevin Collins and Kristen Pennington started the year off determined to stay with the mission as they’ve continuously focused on making the City of Pine Bluff safer.”

Brown said that as the two officers are patrolling the “hot zones” and responding to violent felony calls, they are also being proactive in relation to traffic stops on suspected/known violent offenders. He said that in January, the two were responsible for seizing 140 grams of marijuana, 20.3 grams of synthetic marijuana (K-2), numerous Xanax and Ecstasy pills and four firearms, one of which had been reported stolen.

They were responsible for 12 felony charges on several individuals, including apprehending a “notorious drug dealer” within a months time.

Richardson, who commands the unit, added her own comments to Brown’s nomination, telling Sergeant in a memo that “it is worth mentioning that these officers made these arrests and seizures in less than one seven-day time period.”

During the Public Safety Committee meeting Wednesday, Sergeant talked about upcoming job fares that will be held at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on Feb. 27 and at the University of Arkansas at Monticello on March 27. He said the department currently has 128 officers and is budgeted for 140, which has resulted in shortages in all divisions.

For example, he said that traditionally, there have been 10 detectives on both shifts, but currently there are eight. The Patrol Division is short on all three shifts, and an officer assigned to training has been spending time helping to staff the Office of Professional Standards.

He told Committee Chairman Win Trafford that the problem was not a lack of applicants, but rather a lack of people who meet the standards.