Operation D.E.T.E.R. Causes Mixed Reaction

By Jorge Quiquivix
Delta Digital News Service

WEST MEMPHIS — Even though this city has more than 25,000 residents, a police captain said it experiences violent crimes more than any other small town. That is something police hope to change.

Maisha Spears has lived in the Delta community for seven years and has seen crime get worse each year, especially when it comes to murders. West Memphis Police reported 11 murders in 2016.

“It’s actually scary because I have children of my own growing up in this neighborhood,” Spears said.

As a mother of three, Spears is one of many in the city who welcome the newly enacted crime crackdown by the West Memphis Police Department. Both the patrol and investigate units restructured so they could enact Operation Data Enhanced Targeted Enforcement and Restoration at the start of February.

Capt. Joe Baker said after being a member of the Violence Reduction Network for just more than a year, the police department visited Los Angeles to see LAPD’s Operation LASER in effect.

“We liked the elements of the program. So, we replicated the program to bring it back to West Memphis,” Baker said.

The department looked at the last three years of reporting data and searched for an area with a large concentration of violent crimes like homicides, battery, aggravated assault and terroristic acts. After an analysis, police focused on the southwest part of the city for the operation.

“It’s a really targeted effort,” Baker said. “It’s targeted based on the people committing these crimes. It’s not a suppression effort. It’s not a corner jump street effort.”

Spears agreed that particular side of the community was known for violent crimes.

“Hopefully, they’ll straighten it up because there have been a lot of killings going on in the last couple of months,” she said.

However, not everyone agrees with the crackdown. A man, who did not want to be named, was standing across the street from Maddux Elementary School. He said there’s no crackdown on crime because there is no crime.

“They’re harassing people,” he said. “The police say they are cracking down and they are setting up speed traps right in front of the school just to catch innocent parents who have nothing to do with anything.”

He said he feels violent crime in the southwest part of town is all lies because people can drive through the neighborhood without coming across gangs.

“In big cities, gangs huddle up. You see them everywhere; that’s not the case here,” the man said.

Nevertheless, Baker said the data speaks for itself. The department set a goal after the program has been in place for nine to 12 months.

“I know in a city like L.A. where we copied this from, a 3 to 5 percent decrease in their violent crime and a 10 percent decrease in their homicides is a big deal,” he said.

With more than 10 homicides last year, Baker said the odds look well for the small town.

“Ten percent, that’s one person’s life that is being saved,” he said.

The West Memphis Police Department is a pilot test for small-town adaptions of Operation LASER. If their version works, not only would the program expand to other parts of the city, Baker said his colleagues would teach other Delta communities how to incorporate it in their municipality.