WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. -- At the place where Interstates 55 and 40 meet, crime increases, according to West Memphis Police Capt. Joe Baker. It's part of the reason why he says violent crime is more than two times the national average in the small Arkansas town.
“You got I-40 and I-55, which are huge vessels for commerce but it also brings in transient criminal activity," Baker said.
The high crime rate qualified West Memphis to be the smallest department in the federal Violence Reduction Network, he said. Baker said the Dept. of Justice probably wanted to use the town as a test case for a small agency, paired with much larger departments like Detroit and Flint, Mich. and Chicago.
"It’s not a program that hands you money to purchase things with. It brings you training, technical assistance and federal resources of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Baker said the VRN has taken them to training trips on both coasts. There, they work with other agencies to learn how to improve enforcement and community involvement.
"We’ve been to Camden, New Jersey and looked at their real-time crime center," he said.
He also said the program taught the department better ways of using social media to engage the community.
West Memphis resident Bridgette Turner said she would embrace more police outreach.
"It’ll keep me aware on what they’re doing for the community," she said.
But Baker admits he doesn't know what will happen to the program when President Barack Obama leaves office. President-elect Donald Trump has mentioned improved community policing programs as part of his goals for his first 100 days in office. Baker hoped Trump would leave his predecessor's program in place.
“The training and assistance it provides to agencies is invaluable across political lines. I think it's a great training for officers. We hope the funding would stay intact," he said.
He said officials told him in October that regardless of the election outcome, funding should be in place through 2017. But, he had not heard from the DOJ since Trump's election.