Habitual, violent offenders get revolving door thanks to bail-bond policies
Assistant West Memphis Police chief outlines problem in keeping criminals off city streets
One of the biggest frustrations law enforcement in Arkansas and West Memphis has, particularly when it comes to serious felonies such as homicide, is the apparent ease suspects are having in getting back out on the streets, free to repeat their dastardly deeds just days after their arrests.
When a serious crime occurs, such as those that have plagued West Memphis recently, local police have been quick to make arrests, only to see substantial bonds set and subsequently circumvented.
In a recent example, on April 6, two suspects were arrested soon after a shooting at a social event on East Broadway that killed two people.
Later that same night, a second West Memphis shooting occurred around dawn on the southwest side of town. In that shooting a 23-year-old woman was shot dead in her bedroom in a drive-by shooting in the Westwood Acres subdivision, at 6045 S. Oxford.
The two jailed suspects, Kentavia Smith and Dontavious Henderson appeared before Circuit Judge Fred Thorne, who set half-million- dollar bonds. Both were released after posting just $5,000 each.
Assistant West Memphis Police Chief Robert Langston said this is a common occurrence.
“This goes on all the time and is a contributing factor in many of the crimes that occur not only in West Memphis but throughout Arkansas,” said Langston.
“We make good, solid arrests in such serious crimes only to see these very same suspects back on the streets within a short period of time creating more problems.”
Langston said the entire police force tries very hard to deal with violent crime, and officers have been very successful in solving homicides and serious felonies. But the way the system works, they can’t keep these suspects off the streets. And often they immediately or very quickly return to committing crimes, even as their cases are working their way through the court system.
“This is very frustrating for law enforcement, and I know it has been going on all my law enforcement career,” Langston said.
Langston said at this point, there is no known recourse to the issue other than take alternative measures such as establishing special crime units like the recently-formed violent crime unit that deals strictly with major crime in West Memphis.
Langston said when his officers are having to focus their attention on the same individuals it takes away the attention to other important issues and requires assigning extra manpower to watch these individuals who have been released on bond.
Regulations vary from state-to-state, but the way it works in Arkansas, all bonding companies must follow the laws, rules and regulations set by the Arkansas Professional Bail Bondsman Licensing Board. The charges and fees associated with bail bonds issued in Arkansas are the same for every bonding company. The state mandates that bail bond companies charge and collect a minimum of a 10 percent premium for all types of bonds that are issued. So, in the case of Smith and Henderson the 10 percent would have been $50,000.
The law also requires certain fees to be collected with every bond posted.
Any and all premiums and fees are due and payable at the time the bond is written.
Financing may be an option depending on the bond amount. This is determined with the bail agent posting the bond. The bond amount may requite collateral.
And, oftentimes the bail company will only require a co-signer or indemnitor.
The types of collateral accepted for bail can include vehicles of any kind, real estate as well as certain other property such as jewelry, artwork or any other item depending on the value and the amount of the bond.
Langston said another problem law enforcement has in addressing crime besides the bonding system is overworked prosecutors. He said their offices understaffed and can only prosecute so many cases at one time.
There are also issues Arkansas has with overcrowded state prisons necessitating the early release of convicted felons who often return to where they came from and resume their habitual criminal activities.
“These are situations that the citizens of West Memphis need to know about so that they can have a better understanding as to just exactly what we, as law enforcement officers, are dealing with,” Langston said.