On Tuesday, for the second time, the Little Rock City Board rejected Director Erma Hendrix’s proposal to require city residency for new police hires. Most city police, particularly white officers, live outside the city.
The televised vote didn’t make clear the roll call but the important at-large voters — Gene Fortson, Dean Kumpuris and Joan Adcock were all nays. UPDATE: Only the three black directors were ayes. The rest were nays, with Brad Cazort absent.
The City Board earlier did approve a cash housing incentive up to $5,000 for all new city hires in all departments.
Many cops turned out to protest the Hendrix proposal. The police chief has said many officers don’t want to live here because the city is unsafe and they view the majority black school district negatively.
Retired Judge Marion Humphrey made a powerful statement in favor of police having an “investment” in the city. He said he resented criticism of the schools and the city by police and the notion that it would be, as one officer said, “punitive” to be required to live in the city. Don’t like it? he asked. Get a job in Cabot. Judge Wendell Griffen made a similar suggestion. He said officers wanted convenience and the better pay the city offers. He compared the city police to “mercenaries.” Austin Porter, a civil rights lawyer, noted that about a quarter of LR cops take money home to white flight communities. Most of the cops who live in the city, including his own son, are black, he said.
I wondered: Who does the City Board represent — Cabot or Little Rock? The board cares more about Cabot commuters than the city in the I-30 project. Are Cabot cops also more valuable?
A LR cop who does live in the city reacted angrily to the criticism. But he also said residency requirements don’t work, an argument with some resonance. He said the city already has a hard time filling vacancies. Firefighters also objected, supporting “their brothers in blue.”
City Director Doris Wright asked what was so negative about living here. She also said she knew of a black applicant rejected here who was hired by the FBI.
City Manager Bruce Moore said he wasn’t supportive of a residency rule directed at a specific department.
Hendrix said she knew she’d lose, particularly in a system where white at-large directors control the outcome. This is about race, she said. She remonstrated Moore for catering to a majority white board.
Director Dean Kumpuris said “making” people do things was not the way to bridge gaps.
Director Lance Hines said he preferred a “carrot” approach and he said the city should consider the region in its decisions. (Funny, I didn’t know directors were elected to represent Cabot and Bryant.)
My thought: I’m not convinced of the wisdom of a residency requirement. But I am convinced something is wrong when most white officers don’t want to live in the city and cite the schools and crime as reasons. As Marion Humphrey suggested, it’s essentially an insult to those of us who DO live here and send our kids to public schools. It is fair cause to question police attitudes in their interaction with residents, particularly minorities. Do the cops think we’re all dangerous? Or merely stupid?
To recap the racial dimension of this, from 2015 figures:
177, or about 34 percent, of the department’s 527 sworn officers, live in the city of Little Rock. Of 160 black officers, 99, or 62 percent, live in the city. Of 354 white officers, only 75, or 21 percent, live in the city.
The board also stepped in to borrow $3.3 million to buy the Cromwell Building at Third and Spring for the LR Convention and Visitors Bureau, which will pay off the debt with hamburger tax money. There was a striking absence of a clear explanation of why the city was stepping in to make the payment. It apparently has some relationship to possible rental of space in building by the city, perhaps for police use, because A&P money can only be used for A&P and parks. More funny business from city hall.