LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday announced the creation of a multiagency partnership to combat violence in Little Rock, just days after a nightclub shooting left 28 people injured.
The task force will consist of agents and officers from agencies including the Little Rock Police Department, FBI and Arkansas State Police.
"We have experienced an escalating level of violence in Little Rock in recent years," Hutchinson said during a news conference. "The looming cloud of violence harms us all; not just in Little Rock, but the entire state."
He added that the city is a magnet for tourism and that "if Little Rock is not safe, we cannot succeed in our goals as a state."
The agencies will assign officers to the group to share intelligence about violent offenders and threats in the city, the governor said. The task force will target violent offenders, particularly those known to be affiliated with gangs, and work to get longer prison sentences for offenders, he said.
The nightclub shooting happened in the early hours last Saturday during a rap concert inside the Power Ultra Lounge in downtown Little Rock. City officials said earlier this week that they will be shutting down the club under a "criminal abatement" program, and state regulators have suspended the club's liquor license.
The concert's headliner was Memphis, Tennessee, rapper Ricky Hampton, also known as Finese2Tymes. Hampton was arrested in Alabama about 24 hours after the shooting on outstanding charges of aggravated assault with a gun out of Forrest City in eastern Arkansas. He's accused of shooting someone in the neck days before performing at the Little Rock concert.
Little Rock police Lt. Steve McClanahan said investigators continue to look into the Power Ultra Lounge shooting and are waiting for forensic evidence to be processed. The shooting capped a violent week in the city. Police had responded to a dozen drive-by shootings over the previous nine days.
The task force also seeks to intensify enforcement of alcoholic beverage laws at businesses, with officers expected to visit places in Little Rock and Pulaski County to make sure their closing hours are strictly enforced.
Charles Williams, who's with a Little Rock organization called Stop the Violence, said he's not pleased with the governor's task force plans. He said incarcerating more people should not be the only way to combat violence, and that more preventative measures must be utilized.
"What can we give to these young people to prevent what happened at that club?" Williams said.
He said officials need to ensure the investigative group includes people of color to reach out to the areas that need help.
"We've got to have urban people involved in urban issues," Williams said.