UAPD Patrols Problem Homeless Camp By Building Relationships

FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) -- University of Arkansas Police officers have worked to deter crime in one of Fayetteville's largest homeless camps by building relationships with its many residents.

The nearly 60 acres of university property near 19th Street and South School Avenue  has long been an area known for higher-than-usual crime, ranging from drug use and assaults to an occasional homicide.

UAPD has sought to get a better handle on the area's safety.

To do that, every few days a group of officers ditches the car and sets off on foot into the woods on a maze of trails lined with tents and makeshift shelters that many homeless people call home.

Cpl. David Robertson is often among them. In his three years as detective, he has come to know many camp residents by name.

"We just like to visit with everyone in the camps, kind of let them know that we are here as law enforcement officers, but also what can we do to help you," Robertson said.

He also uses his visiting time to make conversation and build relationships, which he said has helped him work cases that he is investigating. Since January, UAPD has responded to calls in the area about 40 times, with a few ending in an arrest.

That doesn't mean everyone who calls the area home causes trouble.

Kimberly Blanchett has lived in the homeless camp for about seven years. For her, the outdoor living is by choice.

"I love the woods. It's just peaceful for me," Blanchett said. "The animals and the woods. It's beauty."

Others, like Thomas Crane, have made the area home out of circumstance.

"It's hard to really come to terms with doing something like this," said Crane, who has lived in the camp for over two years. "I mean, it's not easy and you got danger out here."

The land, 57 acres to be exact, is broken up into three parcels, all of which are on the market, but the university has yet to find a buyer. If or when the property is sold, it's unclear what would happen to its inhabitants.

Until then, Robertson said he'll continue his outreach in hopes of spreading peace.

"They're humans, They're people, too," Robertson said. "We're trying to do our part just to help them, get them back on their feet and any of the resources we can provide them with."