LITTLE ROCK -- Incidents in which people drive around city streets and parking lots in the early-morning hours and shoot guns and damage property have Little Rock officials working to find a solution.
Police Chief Keith Humphrey and City Director Kathy Webb met Tuesday to discuss what officials have called a persistent problem of "caravanning."
Caravanning, which is banned in the city, is defined as people loitering in cars in groups of 10 or more, usually characterized by drag racing or burnouts. And gunfire.
Early Monday, residents reported a couple of incidents of gunfire in Little Rock's Ward 3, one at Park Plaza and another at the Sports Academy parking lot on West Markham Street.
Webb, who represents Ward 3, said she has been frustrated by the incidents, which she said started about a year ago and have escalated after the July 4 holiday.
"One of the neighbors had some videos that show that these incidents have been happening for a number of months," Webb said. "I think she said 11 months, and other people said back in the fall."
Police spokesman officer Eric Barnes said that in the past few weeks, there had been no arrests for caravanning in Ward 3 but could not say whether there had been arrests for drag racing.
Before the Monday shooting at the mall, drag racing, burnouts and doughnuts were the primary caravanning concerns. During the Fourth of July, however, the concerns some residents had were over fireworks, according to Webb.
"I had residents calling me on the weekend on the Fourth of July whose yards back up to Park Plaza saying they were worried," Webb said. "What if some of the fireworks were thrown? What if something caught on fire? You know, [they were] concerned about that."
The city's gunshot-detection system can distinguish gunfire from fireworks. According to Webb, the data is showing more gunshots now during these incidents.
"It seems to be increasing in terms of the number of cars, and if the reports are even close to accurate with shots fired moving from firecrackers or fireworks to shots fired, then obviously the situation is getting worse," Webb said.
The concerns are not restricted to just one ward. In April, as a part of a coronavirus action plan, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. banned vehicle caravans that had been drag racing near Asher Avenue and Colonel Glenn Road between Ward 2 and Ward 7.
Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson said after an increase in policing in that part of his ward, the caravan participants just moved to another area, and he had to make a request for policing in the new area.
In Monday's incidents, officers responded at 2:30 a.m. to calls reporting gunfire at the Academy Sports & Outdoors store at 11400 W Markham St., according to a police report.
One of the members of the caravan had been shot in the shoulder and was interviewed by police at 3 a.m.
Several city directors brought up concerns about caravans at Tuesday's Board of Directors policy meeting. Scott said police have always had a detail focused on caravans in the area of Asher Avenue in the summer months.
Ward 6 City Director Doris Wright said she had talked with community resource officers about the issue on Friday and then later received calls about souped-up cars doing doughnuts near Park Plaza.
"When [officers] try to stop this, these cars turn off their lights and they speed off," Wright said. "Really there's nothing they can do but try to keep the traffic flowing."
Wright told the mayor that she planned to put together a proposal to address the issue that would involve creating more activities for young people as well as encouraging business owners to block off their parking lots when they are closed.
"They can't go to the movies, they can't go to the park, they can't play ball, they're basically forced into their cars, so they're just caravanning," she said.
She added that business owners along Colonel Glenn Road were growing frustrated with the issue.
At-large City Director Joan Adcock said she believed there were between 200 and 400 caravan drivers out on the weekends and said she would like to see a plan to address it.
"There's a lot of businesses that are scared, tired of their parking lots being messed up," Adcock said.
Scott said police had been working diligently and were aware that caravans were out every weekend. He added that officers had to take safety into account when deciding whether to pursue them.
After meeting with the chief and residents of her ward, Webb said she is confident that steps will be taken to solve the caravanning problem.
"I think there was frustration expressed from the residents that the action has not been effective, and the chief expressed frustration as well that we haven't been more successful," Webb said. "But I think we concluded the discussion agreeing to get back together and with some proactive things that would be done."