PB ranks as the least safe U.S. small city

Money talks, and it’s saying Pine Bluff is losing plenty of it to crime.

That’s according to a ranking of the safest to least safe small cities and towns in the U.S. by MoneyGeek.com. The data, featured in a Newsweek.com article on Thursday, revealed Pine Bluff is the least safe of 660 communities with 30,000 to 100,000 residents.

The rankings were based on the crime cost per capita, which MoneyGeek defines as a societal cost of crime per resident. The data, first released May 26, also include the violent and property crime rates per 100,000 residents and the cost of crime, or the loss of money attributed to crime and its cost to society – community-wide and nationally.

Violent crime includes murder, rape and aggravated assault, according to MoneyGeek.

According to its report, MoneyGeek used standardized crime statistics reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2021, the latest year for crime data on file, and relied on three college professors to determine the cost of crime to society. Pine Bluff’s population was listed as 39,670 in the data.

Pine Bluff’s cost of crime per resident was $9,071, leading to a total cost to society of $359,866,000. The violent crime rate per 100,000 was 2,067.1 and the property crime rate per 100,000 was 5,863.4.

FBI data revealed 820 reported violent and property crimes (not counting arson) in 2021, with 107 of them cleared. That was an increase from 746 reported violent crimes (93 cleared) in 2020.

Pine Bluff recorded 30 homicides in 2021; 21 in 2022; and 15 this year (as of Saturday morning).

WHAT’S THE FORMULA?

The formula the professors used in determining the cost remains a mystery.

“That is probably a pretty complex construct,” said Matthew Pate, a former Pine Bluff police officer who now lectures in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Albany (N.Y.) and runs P8 Analytics, a law enforcement legal consulting firm.

“A lot of these indexes have constructs in them that are several weighted factors that are reduced to a single score that would then factor in their bigger rubric,” Pate said. “I’m less interested in the particularity in any given index than I am the broader social problem they highlight. No matter where you fall on the validity of a given index, some things are undeniable.”

For one, there’s a violent crime rate almost four times the national average.

The violent crime rate for all of the U.S. is 5.6 per 1,000 people, according to NeighborhoodScout.com. Pine Bluff has the eighth-highest violent crime rate among cities of 25,000 or more people at 20.5 per 1,000, followed by Little Rock at 20.2.

Between July 11-16, Pine Bluff was saddled with four homicides, each one involving the death of someone 17 or younger. A total of seven suspects – all 19 or younger – are tied to the killings, with three of them still at large.

“The youth violence and gang violence problem is unchecked and out of control,” Pate said. “I worked for the Pine Bluff Police Department in varying capacities for 25 years. Gang violence was one of the things I was tasked to study and understand. Just from that experience, it is clear to me we have a number of primarily youth gangs involved in firearm and drug trafficking and connected to other gangs in other cities.”

University of Nebraska associate professor Justin Nix, however, aired a concern about the MoneyGeek study to Newsweek. Nix said that 2021 was the first year the FBI fully transitioned to the National Incident-Based Reporting System, which he said “resulted in lower quality national data due to a larger share of local agencies not participating.” Some agencies, Nix told Newsweek, submitted data for less than the full 12 months.

Calls to Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and Police Chief Denise Richardson went unanswered.

CITY IMAGE

The data have not been enough to hinder Advertising and Promotion Department Director Sheri Storie from promoting Pine Bluff.

“I have come to find out people don’t pay attention to those reports, particularly as there was some question to their methodology,” Storie said. “I have never come across anybody who said ‘I’m not coming to Pine Bluff because I have heard this or read that. We are fortunate some of those things are skewed.”

Crime data on Pine Bluff tends to affect its citizens rather than the outsiders, Storie added.

“We just continue to promote the positives,” she said. “You can find negatives in every single city and every single country. Our job is to promote Pine Bluff as a place to visit, and we know the attributes the city offers. It’s not a difficult job for us because we believe in the city 100 percent, particularly with the development of the [Delta Rhythm and Bayous] cultural district coming online.”

VOICE FROM THE CAPITOL

However Pine Bluff’s crime is tied to its losses, the idea of being the least safe small city doesn’t sit well with State Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-Pine Bluff).

Flowers doesn’t deny that her hometown has had a crime problem for years. She worked with Kymara Seals of the United Citizens of Pine Bluff in 2020 and 2021 to conduct a survey of how citizens felt about crime in the city and the police’s response to it.

“I think if I hadn’t been involved in the efforts with Kymara Seals where we did data gathering, I wouldn’t be so annoyed and downright angry,” Flowers said, in response to the MoneyGeek data. “Clearly we have issues with homicide and violence, as other cities do. When we did our data gathering, based on data from the police department, crime decreased from 2010 to 2020, outpacing our population decline.”

FBI data revealed the total of reported crimes in Pine Bluff saw a dip from 687 in 2010 to 566 in 2013, but then a spike to 798 in 2017 and another drop to 645 in 2015 before rising to 820 in 2021.

“Even if they did their research 10 years ago and we’re the most dangerous place, which I don’t believe, anyone who did a cursory review of 10 years ago to now would see we don’t belong on that list.”

Flowers also called out Newsweek for posting the article, albeit based on MoneyGeek’s study.

“For that to be a national outlet and they did not talk to anyone to get context and to put it online, it’s sloppy and not true,” she said. “Had I not been privy to the data myself, I wouldn’t make this comment.”

Pine Bluff once boasted a population of 63,114 in the 1980s, according to its city limit signs. Many have cited a rise in crime and gang activity over the years as a reason for leaving the city.

Pate blamed the current state of affairs on a lack of a culture for public policy, which he says tends to be reactive.

“We don’t take a sufficiently active role in fixing things internally,” he said. “Maybe it’s unintended that we are at the sad place where we are, but that doesn’t mean it was an accident. The city leaders have faced many crisis points over the last 30 years where they could have chosen a different path, and those choices might have put us on a different path than we’re on currently.”

Police alone, Pate stressed, are not the only solution to ending violence in Pine Bluff. He acknowledged the local police department does well with limited resources.

“In any event, crime doesn’t begin because of what the police do,” he said.

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