Despite an increase in homicides compared to a year ago, overall reported crime in Pine Bluff dropped 2.45 percent in March, according to the most recent statistics from the Pine Bluff Police Department.

There were 318 reported crimes in March, compared to 326 in March 2018. In March 2017, 391 crimes were reported.

During a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee Wednesday, Assistant Police Chief Ricky Whitmore said officers were concentrating on the five homicides last month, especially since there were only two reported in March 2018.

In 2017, there were five homicides reported in March.

“We’re going to try and do some things to get a handle on it,” Whitmore said about the homicides.

Among those things, Whitmore mentioned the money the council approved last month that will allow police to pay rewards of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects in any of the city’s unsolved homicides, not just those from this year.

The council approved transferring $50,000 to pay the rewards — the money had been allocated for officer salaries, but there are currently a number of vacancies in the department.

“We’re also looking at cold cases and trying to put together a cold case squad,” he said. “Putting some fresh eyes on some of those cases. The violent crimes unit is targeting some of the trouble makers and working pretty hard. There are not a lot of them.”

He said officers are also concentrating on Regional Park, particularly on Sunday, “so (it) can be used by all our citizens.”

Whitmore said the department’s Traffic Division recently worked on Sunday in Regional Park and adopted a zero-tolerance approach.

“We’re not going to bother the grandmothers or grandfathers, but those people out there who are cutting donuts or spinning their tires are going to be ticketed,” he said.

Also, in the future, Whitmore said the department will again partner with other law enforcement agencies like the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Arkansas State Police and others to conduct saturation campaigns and warrant roundups as they did last year.

“We will also work with probation and parole,” Whitmore said. “They can get us in places were can’t.”

As Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant said Tuesday when he spoke at Coffee with the Chiefs, Whitmore reiterated that the Police Department’s efforts to reduce homicides will “come at a cost.”

Sergeant said the department will use overtime money to put more officers on the streets. In previous years, police generally used significant overtime only during November and December during the holiday shopping season.

Council member Win Trafford, the chairman of the committee, said it is important to “put money into the safety of the city and its citizens.”

“It’s not even summer yet,” Trafford said. “We need money to handle the problems we have right now.”

Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington said the city has been contacted by the U.S. Department of Justice about an initiative it could qualify for to offer additional resources in efforts to reduce violent crime.

Washington said she and Sergeant, who was out of town attending training, will meet when he gets back to discuss how to take advantage of the federal program.

Looking at the other reported crimes in March, there were four rapes or attempted rapes compared to five in March 2018; two reported robberies compared to one in March 2018; 35 aggravated assaults compared to 44 in March 2018 and 100 simple assaults compared to 114 in 2018.

In terms of crimes against property, 14 commercial burglaries were reported compared to two in March 2018. Of those 14, Whitmore said half were storage units that had been broken into. Twenty-three residential burglaries were reported last month compared to 36 in March 2018; 118 thefts compared to 105 in March 2018; and 16 motor vehicle thefts compared to 19 in March 2016.