LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – In a span of just six weeks, Little Rock police responded to three separate shootings at city parks.
There have been a total of six victims. Two of them died, four others, including a 3 and 4-year-old were injured.
They are places where adults come to exercise and relax, where kids have fun dancing through streams of cool water on a hot day, where man’s best can interact with other furry friends. The recent shootings sparked fear and frustration.
“They robbed me of my own child,” Yuquita Bradley, the mother of 10-year-old Ja’Aliyah Hughes, said.
On March 13, Hughes was shot and killed at Boyle Park.
Eight days later, a man was shot at Murray Park.
In April, four people were shot, including a 3 and 4-year-old at Cheatham Park. Devontay Allen, 22, was killed.
“I have no life without him,” Kimberly Allen, Devontay Allen’s mother, said.
The pain among those directly affected is evident.
Their fear of whether it’s safe to be at city parks is now being shared by many.
“Is it safe to be at a city park? Are our parks safe?” FOX16 Anchor Kevin Kelly asked Little Rock police chief Keith Humphrey.
“Absolutely,” Humphrey replied. “I think they are some of the safest areas in the city.”
Humphrey says the recent shootings were crimes of opportunity, involving people with troubled pasts.
“What we’re seeing is a lot of these cases, people have had issues with each other for two and three years, and then they take the opportunity when they see someone again and it ends up in violence,” Humphrey said.
Chief Humphrey said his department is doing all they can to stop the violence.
Arrests have been made, extra patrols are out and about and officers are following up on every lead they get.
“The one thing I will tell you, Kevin, is that what we see is that when you have a child that’s involved, the entire community comes forward and they provide information,” Humphrey said.
“Are you seeing that right now?” Kelly asked.
“We are seeing that,” the police chief replied. “We are seeing that and the thing I’m seeing is that the community has said this is not all on the police.”
The chief said getting the community more involved is a vital component in every investigation. One that he believes will help restore a sense of peace, not just in our parks, but the entire city.
“We haven’t lost the city,” Humphrey said. “This isn’t a violent city. We are going to get through this. And I totally believe that.”
As for the police force itself, the department is authorized for 594 officers.
Right now, there are 34 vacancies.
Eleven of those will be filled by the end of July.
The chief said the current political environment has made recruiting difficult.
Officers are retiring, others are leaving just after just five or 10 years on the force.
As a result, the department is considering bringing back a $5,000 bonus early next year to attract even more qualified applicants.