Helena-West Helena Mayor Kevin Smith has issued a fuller statement on his note to me this morning promising to defy a proposed state law meant to prevent local law enforcement from co-operating the federal government in enforcement of gun laws legislators don’t like.
The key legislation is now awaiting the governor’s decision. Smith’s words should encourage him to do the right thing. A lawsuit is in the making, it would appear, should the bill become law and the state attempt to punish Helena-West Helena for continued vigorous work, in partnership with the feds, against gun crime.
Mayor Kevin Smith, of Helena-West Helena, said today that his city will
defy any new State law preventing local law enforcement from cooperating with Federal law enforcement agencies when enforcing Federal gun crime laws.
SB 298, by State Senator Gary Stubblefield and Senator Brandt Smith, would potentially expose local law enforcement officers to a $500 fine if charged with violating the proposed law, which some argue would protect Second Amendment right to bear arms, and others say would hinder violent crime prevention.
“My NRA voting record, as a state senator years ago, was a triple A rating — the best you could get at the time,” said Smith. ”I understand both the politics and the importance of being vigilant regarding gun rights. But this is going way too far. I am not sure where we would be as a city without the partnerships, we have with our US Attorney, the FBI, ATF, and DEA, but I do know it would be much worse than it is already.
“Now my legislature is saying ‘we shall take that away from you Mayor,’ and that is just unbelievable to me.
“Regardless of the intentions, this law would radically work against the local law enforcement efforts we have established with Federal law enforcement agencies and would even be punitive against our local law enforcement officers. It exposes our citizens to even more gun violence, targets our police who are already under fire, both literally and figuratively, and is almost certainly a violation of the US Constitution,
which we are sworn to uphold.”
Smith served as a state senator for ten years, before being term limited in 2003, representing nine rural counties in Southeast Arkansas. He returned to local politics in 2018 and was elected mayor. Senate Bill 298 has been approved by both houses and is on the Governor’s desk for his signature or veto. The Governor has expressed concerns about the bill.
“Last year, HWH Police Officer Travis Wallace lost his life in a gun battle with someone he was trying to apprehend. That person was wanted in connection with another gun shooting from a week earlier,” said Smith. “His death was the first officer lost here in the line of duty in over 20 years. I am grateful the legislature recently honored his sacrifice. But, if this bill becomes law, it should be seen as an affront to police officers all over our state, and to the memory of Officer Wallace,” Smith added. “Surely the
legislature will reconsider the wisdom of taking an action that targets our own police officers, will increase gun violence in our neighborhoods, and cost the taxpayers tens of thousands to defend in courts.”
In 2020, the City of Helena-West Helena saw a 14 percent decrease in violent crime in a year when most places saw a dramatic increase, according to crime statistics from the RPS Crime Reporting System (RPS) that provides data for annual FBI Statistics. The city reported collecting over 200 guns from crimes in 2020, and cooperated with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) on building a new ATF standardized evidence locker and identifying over 1,000 guns confiscated in the community.
Smith said a large part of the credit for the 2020, 14 percent drop in violent crime in his city is shared with the US Attorney and Federal agencies, among others, who have conducted operations in coordination with our police chief and local law enforcement.
The US Attorney has recently taken up to seven local cases submitted to them by Chief Smith, most resulting in Federal indictments.
“In the Spring of 2019, at my invitation, US Attorney Cody Hiland, and Colonel Bryant of the State Police, coordinated with my Chief of Police, James Patrick Smith, other local law enforcement, and me to initiate ‘Operation Press Your Luck. ‘They launched a raid that resulted in 44 arrests,” said Smith. “We very much appreciate our partnership with Federal officials. We will continue to work with them regardless of what the State legislature has to say about it.” Smith added.