Members of the Heights Neighborhood Association have been copied on a letter an unhappy Mayor Mark Stodola sent to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week following an editorial on Anne Pressly's beating. The triggering editorial comment was this:
The emotions rage as sympathy and anger rise within -- and disgust with the low priority public safety has been given in Little Rock and Pulaski County.
To the jump for Stodola's full response:
From: Stodola, Mark
Sent: Wednesday, October 22, 2008 12:32 PM
To: Paul Greenberg; David Barham; Jake Bleed, Meredith Oakley, Kane Webb
Subject: Response to today's editotial
Dear Paul and Colleagues,
The heinous attack on Anne Pressly, the subject of one of your editorials this morning, brings to the surface the outrage all of us feel over this dastardly act. Of course, we at first react very viscerally with anger and disbelief that something like this could happen in our city. We forget that we live in a very violent culture where guns are too easy to come by, where the anonymity of a big city is the likely breeding ground for future criminal activity from the likes of felons released from the penitentiary who too often make the "big city" their home.
I hope these "emotions of the moment" are what prompted the writer of today's editorial to suggest that "public safety" is a low priority in the City of Little Rock. NOTHING IS FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH.
First of all, please know that our very professional police department is bringing to bear all its investigative manpower, technology, and forensic science know how in order to solve this vicious crime. As is true in all cases, every possible lead is being traced in hopes of solving this crime and bringing the attacker to justice.
On reflection, I hope you will reconsider your conclusion that "public safety" is given a low priority in Little Rock. Consider this. On October 1st in your newspaper you reported that according to the FBI, violent crime in our city has dropped 27.27% so far this year. Likewise, year end figures for 2007 showed a 10.61% drop in violent crime from 2006! In fact, so far this year, property crimes in Little Rock have dropped 5.79% despite the fact that Pulaski County government has closed its jail to virtually all burglars and thieves. Perhaps your criticism might apply to Pulaski County, but please don't throw us into this briar patch.
Beyond statistics, we in the city fully fund our police and fire department budgets, including substantial overtime, while other departments of the city face budget cuts and employee vacancies. For the last 12 years, our police department has received the prestigious CALEA certification (Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies) which recognizes our police department, one of only 4 in the state, as having reached the apex of professionalism in the operation of their department. This is a priority for us, and is a costly but important one for us to maintain for the safety and security of our citizens.
When the Pulaski County jail shut down, turning away our non-violent felons, we appropriated money to rent jail beds from Faulkner County. We have already exhausted the appropriated sum, so we are transferring more money from other city operations in order to continue to rent these beds through the end of the year. We have doubled up our police recruit classes in the past and we will be adding 7 new, additional sworn police officer positions to our ranks next year.
It seems to me that the Editorial Page has a permanent chip on its shoulder about Little Rock. We fight to keep the "State Fair" and you trivialize. We authorize short term financing (because one of our previous loans has been paid off) to purchase new police cars, replacing vehicles with 140,000+ miles on them, and to build a Mid- Town Police substation and you criticize. The crime numbers mentioned above are real and substantial, and you demagogue. Interestingly, I asked our crime statisticians to compare FBI crime rates between LR and NLR for a 5-year period, 2002-2007 and the rate and type of crime per capita turned out to be virtually identical. Yet we seem to be the ones always in your crosshairs. True enough, some of it may have been deserved in the past, but not this time.
What happened to Anne Pressly is terrible---it shouldn't happen to anybody. Unfortunately it does, all too often in every city in America. Pray that we catch the horrible person who attacked her.
Sincerely, Mark Stodola
P.S. How about an editorial on the dismal reimbursement rate counties receive for holding "state prisoners" in county jails? Pulaski County routinely holds anywhere from 130-150 state prisoners who occupy county jail beds that would otherwise be filled with the burglars and thieves in our county.
I am not writing this to defend the County's handling of the jail situation, the 5% raises they are proposing or their other finances to say the least, but the State is sitting on over a $500 million dollar surplus, and yet reimburses counties only $28 dollars per day per prisoner-a rate that has not been adjusted for along time. The cost to house a prisoner in the state penitentiary is $57 dollars per day---- seems to me that the State is saving money at the expense of the counties and the pubic safety of our citizens.
Public safety is just as much a state issue as a local government issue. Yet I understand that as of now, no additional monies are being proposed in the state budget to increase the reimbursement rate. Hopefully this will change. With a fairer reimbursement rate, the county could hire more jailers and fill up those now vacant jail beds we have in Pulaski County. Guess what? I'll bet you the crime rate would go down even further.