Pine Bluff in Arkansas might seem like any other struggling town in the United States.

But after soaring crime rates and the economic downturn, it has been dubbed the most dangerous little town in America.

Last year there were 18 murders alone in Pine Bluff, which has a population of just 49,000 – seven times the national average per capita.

Two people have already been killed this year and recent figures ranked it the second most dangerous metropolitan area in America after Detroit, which has a population of 1.8million.

‘To have 18 homicides is just an outrageous number for a town this size,’ Police Chief Jeff Hubank told The Independent.

‘The reality is, the little old white lady with the kitten on her lap is perfectly safe in this town. But if you are slinging dope on the east side, you are looking to pay with your life.’

Pine Bluff was once a thriving place to live where there were plenty of jobs.

It survived the great flood of 1927, the Great Depression and even the racial tensions which gripped the south during the 1960s.

But now it has all the hallmarks of a town falling into disrepair and in the last 30 years as many as 16,000 people are thought to have left the area.

Failing schools and poverty are all contributing to the town’s high crime rates and the area is crippled with gang warfare fuelled by drug related crime.

Main Street is a parade of boarded up shops and the once mighty Hotel Pines, which opened in 1913, is crumbling away.

Factories which bustled in the 1940s have now been taken over by gangs which strip them for wiring and use the money they make to buy drugs.

Those who are murdered in the town are killed because they are caught up in drugs.

‘Pine Bluff has just sort of faded away,’ said police office, Rick Buntin.

And it is not just the gang members who make themselves targets for violence.

It is dangerous for police officers too.

Captain Kelven Hadley, a police officer, had a gun pointed at his head in 2011 by a man who held up a petrol station.

Footage caught the incident on film which showed the two men shoot each other at exactly the same time.

The suspect died and Hadley survived thanks to his bullet proof vest.

But for some police officers it is the danger of Pine Bluff which attracted them to join the force in the first place.

Chief Hubank retired after 27 years but was called back when the town’s new mayor fired his predecessor.

He is now hoping to adopt a different approach to policing in a bid to cut crime rates and to make the town a place where people want to live again.

Detroit topped the 2012 list of America’s most dangerous cities.

The Motor City is crippled with gang-related violence.

Violent crimes, which include murder, rape, robbery and assault, fell 10 per cent but are still running five times the national average, according to Forbes magazine.

[Editor’s Note: According to the 2010 Census, Pine Bluff is 75.6 percent black and 21.4 percent white.]

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