City officials were held accountable in a public forum at Wednesday night's Beech Street Historic Neighborhood Association Neighborhood Watch meeting. On hand to listen to community concerns about the increase in crime in Helena were Police Chief Uless Wallace and Mayor Arnell Willis, who both were candid in their responses.
City officials were held accountable in a public forum at Wednesday night's Beech Street Historic Neighborhood Association Neighborhood Watch meeting. On hand to listen to community concerns about the increase in crime in Helena were Police Chief Uless Wallace and Mayor Arnell Willis, who both were candid in their responses. On the agenda were items of discussion ranging from lighting issues in downtown Helena, updates on abandoned buildings, general concerns on the local criminal justice system, and police department operations. The Beech Street neighborhood watch program is still in its infancy. It began in the spring following a rash of break-ins in the area. The group has grown from a hand full of citizens to a large organization of residents including those from adjacent neighborhoods. Will Staley moderated the discussions beginning with an update on increasing the number of streetlights in the Beech Street area. Andrew Yoder noted, "We did a survey of the neighborhood and found that 90 percent of the streets around here have maybe one streetlight per block... most of the neighborhood is in the dark. We have spoken with Entergy and [they] have informed us of their program of putting up street lights." Yoder informed the group, "It is relatively easy to get a street light installed. The cost comes to about six dollars per month. Of the energy bills that needs to be paid, Southern Bancorp has expressed support for the project in helping to find funding." Yoder continued, "As far as public safety is concerned, a dark neighborhood leads to fear and a neighborhood as centrally located such as this one doesn't project an image of Helena-West Helena as a whole and in proximity to crimes that have been happening around here. We think that when it comes to lighting concerns, it prevents crime and makes people feel more safe." As citizens voiced their public safety concerns in front of the mayor and the police chief, Willis noted that, "As mayor of this city, public safety is top priority of mine and I want you to know that I have taken all of these concerns to heart tonight and each time I get a phone call I want you to know that I don't just blow it off; I follow up on it and I want to say to you that I get a sense of anger and frustration when crime happens, whether it is someone I know or don't know." He continued, "As a military person, I am taking a military approach to this. At city hall we meet once a week on Monday with all the department heads." Wallace then addressed the group with some of his concerns and he offered an explanation of the day-to-day operations and problems facing the police department. He noted that he needs a total of 32 police officers to cover the city. He currently has 22.