he old Safeway store at the corner of 12th and
Cedar Streets doesn’t look like much these days — a peeling blue hulk
of a building, marooned between the Willie Hinton Community Resource
Center and the church on the next corner. In its most recent
incarnation, the building was a thrift store. In his State of the City
address on May 1, however, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola suggested a
different future for the structure: a state of the art midtown
substation for the Little Rock Police Department. While Stodola
envisions the new substation as a kind of public safety keystone for
the revitalized 12th Street Corridor he has been talking about since
his days as a candidate, an estimated $1.8 million price tag is sure to
be a big financial pill to swallow.

For now, with the 12th and Cedar
property yet to be acquired and the substation proposal not yet put
before the City Board, the new substation exists only as a colorful set
of artist’s renderings. The project, if approved as it stands, will be
paid for with $750,000 that has already been allocated for a midtown
substation, with the balance coming from short-term financing.

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Stodola said that construction of a
substation on 12th Street has been an issue since before he became
mayor. “Frankly it’s not something that I initiated,” he said. “There
was discussion of this before I became mayor. … It’s been a desire of
the city for quite awhile, and I’m just the one who pushed the ball
forward and will make sure it happens.”

Stodola said that a permanent police
presence will help stabilize the neighborhood and bring down all facets
of crime in the area. “When you look at the homicide rate in this part
of town,” he said, “when you look at the neighborhood decline, putting
an institution such as a police substation in this area will do
tremendous wonders to reduce some of the crime in this area.”

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Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas
said that while the LRPD does have a number of realistic financial
needs, a 12th Street substation will help fill in a “facilities gap”
between West Little Rock, Southwest and downtown. Also, Thomas said, a
large substation will give the LRPD some much-need room to spread
out.   

“We have some very legitimate space
needs,” Thomas said. “We’re still in a situation where detectives are
basically hot bunking — they’re sharing desks. We have a lack of
interview space for witnesses and victims and so forth.”  He said that
he could conceivably see as many as a hundred officers based out of the
new substation at various times of the day and night. Thomas said that
parts of the building might be used for large and bulky property
storage, more extensive laboratory space for the LRPD Crime Scene Unit,
and to store vehicles and equipment out of the weather. In addition, a
24-hour-a-day police presence will bring down crime in a large area
around the substation.

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“You’re going to have officers in and
out of there on an hourly basis all the time. And, for our deployments,
a facility here minimizes that drive time window that you have when
shifts change or squads brief and then go out. The more centrally
located these facilities are to the neighborhood, you really shorten
that turn-around time.” Thomas said that currently, two of the
department’s biggest divisions are based in the old VA hospital on
Roosevelt Road. Though he called the space an excellent facility, “It’s
not ours. You hesitate to make long-term modifications or installations
of equipment into a facility that you’re effectively leasing.”

Michael Keck, Ward 5 City Director,
said that the City Board is never privy beforehand to what the mayor
will say or present in his State of the City address. He said he takes
anything he hears there as “conceptual in nature.” 

“I think we need to flesh out the
specifics of how we get there,” Keck said. “Is it the best use of funds
to use the old Safeway site? Is it better and more prudent to use
existing city land to build something? Could we have a greater impact
by building on vacant property somewhere else on 12th Street? Those are
just some of the things that we’re going to have to flesh out a little
bit.”

Keck said that he is inclined to move
forward with the 12th Street substation project because he believes a
police presence in the area will be a deterrent to crime. He points
out, however, that there are other long-standing public safety needs.
“Our fire department can justify right now, today, the need for three
new fire stations in West and Southwest Little Rock,” Keck said. “The
need has been in existence for a long time and the last time we looked
at putting short term financing in place, we said that the next round
of short term financing, there would be an option presented to meet one
of the three fire station needs that are out there.”

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Keck said it was too early in the
process to know whether meeting those other needs might call for a
scaled back or smaller substation on 12th Street. “We do have other
public safety needs that are of equal importance, and we need to
evaluate how we meet those needs,” he said. “I don’t think we
necessarily have to look at it from an either/or perspective. I think
there are some things we can do to help us do both.”