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Warwick Sabin: Little Rock mayoral candidate

Arkansas State Representative Warwick Sabin is running for Little Rock mayor. (Photo: Sabinformayor.com)

Warwick Sabin is a candidate for Little Rock mayor. Below are his answers to KATV's questionnaire.

1.In your opinion, what is the greatest concern for the city of Little Rock?

Crime and public safety is the greatest concern for Little Rock residents.

The statistics tell part of the story. Homicides, aggravated assaults, and total violent crimes were at a 10-year-high in 2017. Sadly, 2017 was not an anomaly. Little Rock’s crime rate has consistently been among the highest for medium-sized American cities and the number of violent crimes committed per capita is worse than in Los Angeles, New York, Houston, or even Chicago.

Behind those numbers are real people. As I’ve visited neighborhoods throughout our city, I’ve heard far too many tales of lives disrupted or destroyed by crime. Even those who aren’t direct victims of crime feel its impact. Not only does our high crime rate make our residents feel unsafe, it deters investors and entrepreneurs. This harms our economy and makes the pressing task of revitalizing our disadvantaged neighborhoods even harder. Little Rock will simply never achieve its immense potential without deep, sustainable, and citywide reductions in crime.

It starts with strong city leadership that takes an innovative and collaborative approach to enforcement and prevention. Ambitious and transparent crime reduction goals are critical. But they must be accompanied by a commitment to rigorously and continuously measure progress towards those goals and a demand for real accountability when they’re not met. While the LRPD will always play a critical and central role in reducing crime, a safer city is not the responsibility of police officers alone. Just as we are all impacted by unacceptably high crime rates in Little Rock, we all have a role to play in creating the kind of city we want to live in.

2.What is your plan to fight the increasing violence in the city?

No plan to slash crime in Little Rock will succeed without an empowered, innovative, and accountable LRPD. That is not the case today. For too long, the police force has suffered from low morale due to inadequate pay and insufficient resources to do their job. As mayor, I will provide something that has been lacking for too long: a vision and tangible plan to meet the current and future needs of our police force. It will include:

A fully staffed LRPD Effective law enforcement is proactive, not reactive. Yet for years officers have been forced to work in a perpetual crisis mode environment due to persistent vacancies in the LRPD. This must change, and as mayor I will ensure there is a constant and aggressive push to keep LRPD fully staffed. While this is important today, it will soon become even more pressing as large numbers of officers enter retirement.

Community policing-plus Community policing works, and it will be the cornerstone of my efforts to reduce crime. But I also believe that both policing and critical community-police relations are best when officers are not viewed as hostile outsiders. Which is why I want to incentivize officers to live in the communities they serve. I also want to find ways for young people who are interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement to serve the neighborhoods where they grew up. This will both increase community trust in police while providing officers powerful and very personal motivation to safeguard the well-being of their neighbors. I also believe that our police force should look like the city it represents. Currently, the LRPD is 64% white while the city as a whole is only 46% white.

Collaboration and accountability More than 200 cities across the country have successfully established citizen review boards to provide grassroots accountability of their police departments. These boards are independent panels composed of regular citizens who are empowered to review citizen complaints regarding police actions. While these boards establish a neutral, objective vehicle for analyzing complaints, they also can become a forum for building trust and exchanging ideas. When citizens and police officers work together, everybody benefits.

Smarter policing How police officers spend their time is almost as important as the total number of officers. I will launch an in-depth analysis of whether LRPD has the right number of officers budgeted for the city’s current needs, but I also want to make sure our current force is being utilized in the most efficient and effective way. For example, we should continue the efforts toward having “traffic only” police in order to free up officers to focus on more important community policing efforts.

3.What is the role of the Mayor as it pertains to the Little Rock School District?

Little Rock’s city leadership, starting with the mayor, has to be fully engaged and committed to providing a world-class education to all of our youth. The challenges faced by the Little Rock School District and the often-inadequate education provided to our children has been well-chronicled. While this is a complicated and emotional issue, I want to be clear about my position: I am a passionate advocate for public schools. As mayor, I will channel that passion and use all the tools available to me to advance the cause of delivering a high-quality education to all.

It starts with having a comprehensive plan and vision to provide a world-class education to every young person, no matter where in the city they live. In the past, the approach has consisted of temporary, ad hoc solutions like building a new school in one neighborhood. Though a benefit to a handful of well-deserving students, this scattershot approach creates understandable resentment in neighborhoods that are coping with facilities that are literally disintegrating.

As mayor, I would commit to fully engage the public to formulate an approach to public education that supports teachers and elevates all students. You don’t have to look far to find an effective model for how this can be achieved. North Little Rock convened public meetings and put the best ideas up for a vote. The result: Improved citywide consensus around education, the construction of new schools, and a model and commitment to serving its students better.

Public input is important, but so too is fundamental representative democracy. The most audacious, forward-thinking, and publicly-supported plan to improve public education will be of little use without an elected and empowered school board. I will strive to reinstate local control of our schools, and then work closely with those elected officials to innovate and greatly improve the quality of education citywide. We cannot keep saying it’s too difficult or controversial. For the good of our economy, our communities, our quality of life and our public safety, we simply must do better on education.

4.On the proposed Interstate 30 Crossing, do you support the expansion?

No. The 1970s was a time when many American cities opted to build major interstates straight through their urban cores. Little Rock was part of that trend with the construction of I-630, a decision that divided our city and destroyed once thriving neighborhoods. Across the country, cities from Boston to San Francisco have realized what a profound mistake it was to build interstates through their downtowns and have worked hard to remove them.

Sadly, Little Rock is set to exacerbate its past mistakes by widening I-30. This is a decision that ignores powerful trends around transportation and threatens the tremendous progress that has been made in revitalizing our downtown core. While other cities are creating transportation options that emphasize walking, biking, ridesharing and public transportation, city leaders seem intent on doubling down on old thinking and ideas that have proven only to divide us.

It also happens to be a $630 million project that can be scaled back. The structural issues with the I-30 bridge can be addressed in ways that don’t involve widening I-30 and a recent cost-benefit analysis demonstrated that the project will shave only a few seconds off of commutes. Should we really be imperiling a more vibrant and sustainable downtown to support a negligibly improved commute for those who don’t even live in Little Rock?

5.Should teachers and/or other school employees that are not law enforcement be armed?

I believe that our schools need to be reliably safe spaces for students, teachers, and administrators, and I think we should invest in proven methods to secure facilities and have trained law enforcement professionals who are prepared to respond to threats when necessary. But I do not think that teachers and other school employees should be armed, because that is a tremendous burden to place on educators who never envisioned having that responsibility, and it has the potential to make the learning environment less safe by introducing deadly weapons where they could be accessed by unauthorized individuals. Law enforcement officials have said that armed educators can create confusion in an active shooter situation, and I would prefer to rely on their judgment.

6.How would you bring better, higher paying jobs to Little Rock?

It’s impossible to talk about jobs and economic vitality without discussing education. The foundation of a city’s ability to attract, retain, and grow thriving businesses is an educated and well-prepared workforce.

And while an educated workforce goes hand-in-hand with a strong economy, Little Rock also needs to reimagine its economic development strategy. So much of what’s wrong with Little Rock’s approach – and that of most American cities, for that matter – is symbolized by the feverish jockeying to attract Amazon’s second American headquarters. The approach cities have been taking to attract Amazon follows a familiar formula: Lavish public subsidies and tax breaks on an already wildly profitable business in hopes of reaping the rewards of a wealthier tax base and increased private investments.

The track record of this approach is mixed at best, with far too many cities seeing no return on their taxpayers’ investments. Instead of this tired and unproven approach to economic development, Little Rock needs to conceive and implement a plan that is more relevant to the 21st century economy and also more inclusive, efficient, and sustainable. Put simply, instead of an economic development strategy geared to luring Big Business with taxpayer giveaways, I’d focus on promoting small business and entrepreneurship.

My approach to economic development would mirror my approach to improving education. I would begin by opening up a dialogue with neighborhoods around the city to learn what types of businesses would most benefit its citizens. With that information, I would work to collaboratively develop a plan to support entrepreneurs with access to finance, knowledge sharing, and technical assistance. This data driven approach -- which many cities and towns have implemented – will help us determine what types of businesses have the best chance of success. This data could also be shared with existing businesses to help improve their operations and revenue.

This is not a quick fix. But I’m convinced that it’s possible to steadily and sustainably revitalize our communities and create economic opportunities without dislocating current residents. Besides providing leadership and facilitating community engagement, the city has a more direct role in the success of this economic development strategy. The city government must equitably supply the infrastructure – everything from good streets and sidewalks to broadband access – that small businesses need to succeed.

Another direct way Little Rock city government can assist entrepreneurs is by reducing the barriers to launching a business, including cutting unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy and providing assistance to help fledgling companies navigate cumbersome licensing and permitting processes. The city of Oakland, California implemented a “startup in a day” program, an event that brought city employees together with entrepreneurs to help citizens navigate their way through all the city approvals they would need in a short period of time. Making it easy for companies to get started means entrepreneurs can focus on more important matters, like attracting investments and serving their customers.

None of this is to say that I’m against large, successful businesses. But we have to remember that all big businesses, like Arkansas’s own Walmart and TCBY, started as small businesses. Let’s respect and uphold that legacy and become a reliable partner to help our entrepreneurs grow more small businesses into globally known brands.

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