Oddly, it's a man the police see almost daily who appears to be the biggest threat.“I've got a real f***ing gun and I'm going to shoot you! It takes 15 minutes, handcuffs and the threat of a shock with the Taser gun to get him into the back of Kirk's car.Then comes a Code Three: a house is burning down; someone might be inside.There is no one, happily, and the fire brigade has barely put out the fire before the owner is giving a statement on the street. She had had an altercation earlier with some neighbourhood youths and they threatened to “get her”.They can't even write a freaking sentence or know where to put the pronoun,” Hubank laments. “The reality is, the little old white lady with the kitten on her lap is perfectly safe in this town.
“Some of it is really bad, and you have to stand back or it overwhelms you.” Half-joking, he says it helps to have a “sick, twisted sense of humour”.That may explain the firecracker that went off, just like a gunshot, as we walked through one of the empty factory buildings, sending the only one of us not in on the joke leaping several inches into the air.Or the pleasure they take marching me to an abandoned house on the edge of a wood, its ceilings falling in and its walls adorned with graffiti in blood red paint reading “666” and “F*** you, Jesus”. “Armed disturbance, South Cherry.” There are 11 cop cars out tonight and most have arrived their before us.She had assumed that meant they were going to shoot her.Burning her house down instead seemed like a good trade.“We had 18 murders last year,” Hubank concedes during a conversation in his office at police headquarters.“That equates to about seven times the national average per capita.The town and its surrounds, swelling the population to 100,000, has recently been ranked the second most dangerous metropolitan area in America after Detroit (population 1.8 million), based on violent crime statistics such as murder, rape and kidnapping.As we leave, around 7.30pm, a new reluctant guest arrives in a wheelchair and hospital pyjamas.To visit the jail in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, early on a weekday night in winter is to delude yourself that the town can't be as bad as they say. He has drawn the short straw today, picked by Police Chief Jeff Hubank to make room in the front of his squad car for a visiting journalist. “And keep him in the car if stuff is going down.” Somehow we end up mostly forgetting that second part.Three men sit quietly in their cells and the arrest register shows only 11 new arrivals all day, mostly for paltry infractions like loitering and shoplifting. Pine Bluff has nine prisons, 90 churches and a population of 49,000, down from 65,000 three decades ago.