After the four finalists for Little Rock Police Chief heard citizen concerns at a series of community forums earlier this year, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. selected Keith Humphrey as the next leader of the department. Scott said his selection of the former Norman, Okla., police chief for the position was the most important decision he’s made this year, and possibly the most important decision he will make in his first term. Since he was sworn in on April 15, Humphrey has been faced with an officer-involved shooting and protests by supporters of Bradley Blackshire, who was killed during a traffic stop by LRPD Officer Charles Starks in February. Humphrey spoke with the Times to answer questions about his first few weeks in office and his plans for the future of the department.
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Your first couple weeks here have been pretty tumultuous. What has it been like being faced with so much conflict so soon after you started?
That’s the job of a chief, so it’s never overwhelming, it’s never a surprise. You just never know what to expect, but you train for this your entire career. Especially as a chief, you understand that from minute to minute, day to day, things change. So it hasn’t been overwhelming, it’s what I expected. Knowing the hot-button items that were going on in the city — it’s pretty much what I expected.
At a community forum in March, you spoke about establishing a vision for the Little Rock Police Department. How are you going to work to create that vision?
First of all, I want to let everyone know that the [LRPD] has one of the strongest mission and value statements that I’ve seen. It’s very well-articulated. But one of the things I talked about is being the safest city in Arkansas and one of the safest in the nation. But we have to have a vision of how we’re going to get there, where we’re going … people need to know that. So what we’ve done is we’re convening a committee of employees, commissioned and noncommissioned, and also Citizens Police Academy alumni, to develop a vision statement that will focus strictly on Little Rock. We’re not looking for a canned [statement.] With the two things that I’ve said — as far as [being] one of the safest cities in America and in [Arkansas], and then 21st century policing — how do you combine all of that and come up with a vision statement so that we all know where we’re trying to go?
What will your next steps be to communicate that vision to the public?
I think we make it public. We’ve got our website, I think we put that on our website, I think we put that on our Facebook. Every time we have an opportunity, we talk about that. If you look at my signature on my email page, I talk about our mission and value statements on there, and then I talk about 21st century policing. As soon as we come up with a vision statement, that will be part of my signature line also. Every chance I get, I will encourage our officers to include that in their signature line, especially our supervisors. I think when people see that more, people start to buy into the vision.
Anti-sanctuary city legislation recently passed in the House has caused the immigrant community great concern. Where do you stand on ICE enforcement and detaining? How do you plan to make the immigrant community feel safe?
When I got here, I was informed of SB 411. And the first thing that I’ve done is I met with the Mexican Consulate and legal liaisons, and we talked about it. There’s some confusion on what the bill is requesting, so we talked about that. I’ve already spoken with the mayor and our city attorney, so … the Mexican Consulate and legal representatives, the mayor, myself and the city attorney, we’re going to meet together to try to figure out what this bill is stating, what are the requirements. Because it’s very confusing on what the bill is mandating or what it’s recommending, so we have to understand that first.
This morning, I met with a group of Latino ministers, and that was [one] of the concerns they had. We informed them of the steps we’ve been taking to find out. And even the ministers stated that they’re not clear on what the bill is trying to ask, or say, or direct. A lot of people in the Hispanic community, they’re not clear. They’re afraid. My focus is trying to ensure any [person] — Hispanic, Asian, any person who may be an immigrant here — that we’re their police department, we serve everyone. We want you to come forward if you’re a victim of a crime, if you’ve witnessed a crime, we want you to come forward and not be afraid. Those are the things we’ll continually have to push out, but it would really be nice to know what the purpose of this bill is and what our local politicians or state politicians are trying to accomplish with this. We just don’t know.
At the community forum, you were asked your policy on checking for immigrant status with people who are detained. What is your stance on that?
I think all police departments [have a policy on this] and we’re no different — that’s profiling. And … I know we have a policy against profiling. That’s what it would be to ask somebody for their immigration status, just based on the fact of what they look [like] and where they live. We have an anti-profiling policy. It’s not our responsibility, we don’t ask what a person’s status is.
We’re CALEA [Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies] accredited, so we have those guidelines regarding policies and procedures and restrictions, there are things we’re prohibited from doing and things like that. Keep in mind, immigration is a federal thing, not a local municipality thing. … I know none of the Little Rock police officers have been trained in [enforcing federal immigration laws.]
City Director Keith Richardson recently wrote you about de-emphasizing arrests for personal use of marijuana. What is your response to that? What kind of options might you be exploring for de-emphasizing this going forward?
The state law is very strict. It basically tells us if we write a citation, we have to take someone in, book them, and then they have to follow normal procedure. That’s not a Little Rock Police Department mandate, that’s a state mandate. Under state law, we can’t cut corners if we issue someone a citation. The thing is, make sure we do it fairly. What Oklahoma did was they modified their marijuana laws to make [it] a misdemeanor. We already have laws for state misdemeanors, based on the amount. So I think what he’s talking about is personal usage. If someone is selling marijuana, that’s a whole different thing. But if someone has a small amount of marijuana and we have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to detain them and arrest them, then we, by law, it’s very clear cut: This is what we have to do. We can’t cut corners. We write a citation, we can’t just release them. We have to actually transport that person so that they can be photographed and fingerprinted. That’s state law. I can’t direct the officers not to do that. If I do that, them I’m in violation of state law.
I think what he’s asking is to make sure that we’re not targeting people. I can assure you, we’re not targeting individuals. A lot of times when we run into these charges with marijuana, it’s because they’re additional charges. We may be there for a different reason. Case in point: We might be there for a domestic situation and we arrest someone, and then during the search incident to arrest, we find marijuana. Well, we weren’t there for the marijuana, we were there to investigate a domestic situation. A traffic stop: You stop someone for a traffic violation and then, [during] search incident to arrest, because you have a warrant, you find marijuana in their car, in their person. We didn’t stop them for possession of marijuana, we stopped them for a traffic violation and then there was a warrant, which led to the search.
I think what I’d like for him to understand is that we’re not out here searching. A lot of the arrests that we make are based on other charges that led to the arrest for marijuana.
Have you communicated this to him?
I did respond to him, and it was basically [that] I understand his concern… but I think he stated something in there about Oklahoma City. What the chief of Oklahoma City said, and what I said in Norman, is that those individuals who were caught in possession with small amounts of marijuana would be issued a citation and not be placed under arrest, which is a lot different than it is here in Arkansas. It would require a change in state law. In Oklahoma, basically, the first level of court is municipal court, so that’s traffic tickets. You could issue a citation for a small amount of marijuana, and it would go through the municipal court system, you didn’t have to physically take anyone to jail. Little bit different here. However, if you arrest somebody on a separate charge, and you find marijuana on them, that’s an additional charge that’s going to be added. Two different processes that would have to be changed at the state level.
Where are you and Mayor Scott at in your process of looking into the LRPD’s no-knock search warrant policy?
We’ve talked about that, as a matter of fact, we’re reviewing that as we speak. My plan in the near future is to provide Mayor Scott with some information regarding how we handle no-knock warrants. I’ve spoken with one of the local judges who signs a lot of the warrants, and they have informed me of their process. That has really ensured me that we have really looked at this, this is a serious concern of citizens, and we have looked into it to ensure that we make sure we’re crossing all our t’s and dotting all our i’s, from a [threat] matrix to asking certain questions. It is a topic that I realize is a priority, so we are looking into it.
Where are you and the mayor at in the creation of a citizens review board? At a recent press conference, you spoke about contacting the Department of Justice about creating one that’s specifically tailored to Little Rock.
Absolutely. We met with the Department of Justice, myself and the mayor, on [April] 22nd, pretty much outlining what we think would be needed for the city, based on what we felt the needs were for the city of Little Rock. The Department of Justice has said they are going to develop a template for myself, the mayor and the city attorney to look at and see if the template is going in the direction that we would like. That’s something that’s ongoing.
Have there been any developments on the purchase of body-worn cameras for the department since the Request for Proposals was issued?
I think some companies may have responded, but we’re still looking at the policy. The main thing is how that’s going to be funded. Are there some federal funds, some state funds [we can use]? What’s the city’s part going to be? Is it going to be server-based storage? Is it going to be cloud-based storage? So I know that we’re working on that. I’ve sat in on at least one of those meetings just to see where we are. It’s an ongoing process.
How are you adjusting to life in Little Rock?
I’m loving it. Got a good staff, I just want the citizens to know that we’re not the department that there’s a perception we are. There’s a small percentage of people that think we are overbearing, that we don’t care about our communities. But I’d like to reassure the citizens that we do. This is a very passionate department, the officers really care about this city. They care about the safety of the citizens. They’re going to continue to go out on a daily basis and put their lives on the line for the citizens and ensure their safety, continually auditing and reviewing things. From what I’ve seen, I haven’t seen anything that really overly concerns me regarding protocols. Of course, the no-knock warrant has been a point of contention, so that’s one of the first things that I’ve looked at, but I realize that everything needs to be looked at and modified at some point, all policies do. Everybody has been open to look at everything, and understand why that’s important. I’ve asked us to work as a team, not me as an individual, and that’s been well-received.
[This is a] good department. I think the city’s future of public safety is in good hands. I’m thankful that the mayor has entrusted me with leading this organization. From what I’ve gathered, the officers are going to hold me accountable just like I’m going to hold them accountable, and the citizens are going to hold us all accountable. I think that’s how we become a better city, better police department, a safer city.