In Tuesday afternoon’s board of directors agenda meeting, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey received criticism from city leaders about their proposed ordinance to create a citizens review board for the Little Rock Police Department. The ordinance will be up for a vote at next week’s meeting, despite insistence from at-large directors Dean Kumpuris and Joan Adcock that a vote be delayed until residents are given more information about how the citizens review board will work.
Humphrey and Scott also received questions from directors about how the citizens review board would differ from the city’s existing Civil Service Commission, which handles employee appeals and reviews personnel policy. Stacy Witherell from the city’s Human Resources department explained that the Civil Service Commission is charged with reviewing all complaints against employees of the police and fire departments, which range from “deadly force” to “just an unhappiness with the level of service” that the person filing the complaint received from the department.
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Witherell said that, in the ordinance as drafted, the citizens review board would be “solely responsible” for complaints about use of force, corruption and discrimination.
Vice Mayor B.J. Wyrick said she was confused with the overlap of responsibilities between the civil service commission and the citizens review board, saying she thought the two would be “intermingled” and look at the same types of incidents.
“There would be no overlap, correct,” Witherell said. She added that the civil service commission also conducts appeal hearings of police and fire personnel, which take up a “large majority” of the commission’s meetings, so the creation of a citizens review board would allow the commission to focus on other, “lesser” complaints in addition to the appeal hearings and “routine employment” issues that go before the commission.
Witherell said the Civil Service Commission is “not charged with any review of corruption or discrimination.”
Wyrick also asked Witherell whether it’s “widely publicized” that citizens have the ability to appeal a complaint made about the LRPD to the Civil Service Commission if they’re unsatisfied with the chief’s decision about the complaint.
Witherell acknowledged that this ability is not widely publicized, unless the person goes to the internal affairs office of either the fire or police department. She added that when a decision is rendered a by the chief, the ability to appeal to the civil service commission is stated in the letter the person who lodged the complaint receives containing the chief’s decision.
Witherell also said citizens do not take that opportunity to appeal very often.
“I think over the years, I don’t know that the [commission] has necessarily [been] utilized a great deal by citizens,” Witherell said. “But I think with the adoption of a citizen review board, it will give maybe a more focused approach to those very serious allegations regarding the use of force, and including deadly force along with the corruption.”
She also said that if the citizens review board is adopted, the Civil Service Commission would “amend their rules and [regulations]” to clarify how it differs from the CRB.
“That would be the intent, would be that there is no gray area, that it would be clearly decided that the CRB had purview over [those areas] versus the CSC so we’re not duplicating efforts.”
Ward 5 City Director Lance Hines said he was concerned about whether the review board would “contravene” the responsibilities of the Civil Service Commission, which was appointed by state statute.
Scott emphasized that the Civil Service Commission would be responsible for “employment matters,” while the citizens review board would handle issues more relevant to the community.
“When there are matters that may not even reach an employment matter, but [are] going on in our community, and the community sees an issue with it that can arise to have potential lawsuits against the city where we can be held liable, this is where you have this vehicle to provide those types of complaints,” Scott said.
“But mayor, we already have a vehicle for those types of complaints. Internal affairs,” Hines replied. “They start the [complaint] process for [the fire and police departments] where it comes to any of these things.”
“I’m not here to debate this,” Scott said.
“There are some fundamental issues,” Hines replied, saying that he’s concerned the citizens review board could hinder “due process” for LRPD officers who have had complaints filed against them.
City Attorney Tom Carpenter told Hines that this is not the “intention” of the citizen review board.
“The citizens review board is more or less a viewer of the investigation of the department,” Carpenter explained.
Kumpuris also questioned Humphrey about the ordinance. He referenced Humphrey’s comments at a community forum in March before he was hired, when Humphrey said he’d been involved in creating a citizens advisory board in his previous role as chief of police in Norman, Okla. — a process that Kumpuris recalled Humphrey saying took between six months to two years. He asked Humphrey about the time span for the creation of the citizens review board.
“Are we going to vote on it in a week? Or a month? Or are you going to follow what you did in Norman?” Kumpuris asked. “I think this is a probably necessary thing for the way you want to police in the future, but there’s something about doing it — getting it yesterday, I honestly hadn’t read it because I was working last night, so I’ve not done anything on it. I think what you said in that [community forum] was the correct way of doing it: not that you share it with the [Fraternal Order of Police] and the [Black Police Officers Association], but that you share it with the community and we set up a process where you go out and talk about this so people can know what we’re trying to do.”
Scott then stepped in to tell Kumpuris that “it’s not the chief’s decision on when we vote on it.” He added that “if and when” the ordinance is passed, “we don’t turn the light on on day one,” saying that the people selected for the board would have to go through “extensive training.”
“There’s a phased-in process to even become operational,” Scott said.
“I agree with all that. It’s not the step two that I’m talking about. I’m talking about step one,” Kumpuris said.
Scott said “step one” is the tension between communities and police officers in Little Rock, which he described as “something that’s been going on in our city for quite some time that’s been well-vetted within the community [for] the better part of a year and a half.”
“This was a major issue no matter whether you voted for Frank Scott Jr. or if you voted for someone else,” Scott said. “This was very well-debated throughout the year and a half of the 2018 year.”
Kumpuris repeated that while he supports the idea of a citizens review board, he does not support the timing of its creation and is asking for more time to educate the community about it.
“We are living in times where sometimes we’re not afforded time, so I think this is something where we can be proactive as it relates to community concerns, because the last thing we need is to have a community issue to arise and [us not have] certain protocols in place,” Scott said.
Adcock began sharing her concern about the timing of the ordinance by saying, “I want to tell you mayor: time educating citizens is never wasted.”
She asked Carpenter whether the board of directors would be able to write the bylaws for the citizens review board, which she said Scott told them was the case.
“If I’m not mistaken, isn’t this the bylaws?” Adcock asked, holding up the ordinance. “So we’re not going to go back and let the citizens review board write their own bylaws, are we?”
Scott said Adcock was “sharing things that I did not say.” He said that if a policy or procedure within the citizens review board ordinance needs to be tweaked after it’s established, such a change would have to be approved by the board of directors.
“You used the word ‘bylaws,'” Adcock insisted.
“Again, that’s what I shared: bylaws are part of the process,” Scott replied. “[A change in the bylaws] would have to come before the board as well. … I want to make certain we’re being clear because what I don’t want you to ever do is misstate me.”
Humphrey added that the citizens advisory board in Norman was not established by a vote of the city council, but rather by the mayor, city manager and police chief alone.
Adcock said she wanted more time to ask questions of Scott and the chief about the ordinance. Scott replied that “just like with any ordinance,” he will decide whether the board continues with it on the agenda or not, adding that it is on the board’s agenda for July 23.
Adcock asked again if she and her fellow board members would have the opportunity to ask questions of Scott and Humphrey, to which Scott replied that he’s “never not been available” to speak with Adcock.
“Just like you said earlier, time is never wasted answering questions and talking with the community,” Scott said.
“I said, ‘Time is never wasted when we’re educating the community,'” Adcock corrected.
“And time is never wasted educating you, so I agree with you,” Scott replied.
The room was silent for a beat.
Ward 3 city director Kathy Webb was quick with her comments, asking Scott whether the candidates appointed by the mayor to the citizens review board would need to be ratified by the board of directors.
Scott said a ratification requirement would be added to the ordinance, saying the ordinance was written with that fact “understood.”
Ward 2 city director Ken Richardson, who was absent from Tuesday afternoon’s meeting, told a reporter he still had some questions about the citizens review board ordinance. He said he wants to ensure it “has teeth.”
Richardson added that he does not feel his approval or denial of the ordinance would hinge on its timing.
“A lot of times, those [community input] processes are used as symbolism, at best, to say, ‘We did this,” but most of the time, we’re just doing it to say, ‘We did it,'” Richardson said. “Those kinds of recommendations [for more time] may just give the appearance that we have community involvement, but most of the time they’re perfunctory in nature.”
Richardson said he’s not currently prepared to vote for or against the ordinance, but he is “able to vote on it,” saying any delays or “perfunctory meetings” are unnecessary.
Ronnie Morgan, president of the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police, said the FOP has “concerns” about the ordinance, which it has shared with Scott, and a meeting has been scheduled to discuss them. He said most of the concerns involve “due process” for officers who receive complaints.
“As [the ordinance] is written, if an officer receives disciplinary action from the chief of police, prior to appealing to Civil Service Commission, if they chose to do so, the citizens review board would review the appeal first, and their meetings are open to the public,” Morgan said. “So our concern there is that whatever they discuss in open forum meetings could influence what the Civil Service Commission finds during its hearing.”
Morgan added that avenues for civilian review of police procedures and incidents already exist, outside of a citizens review board.
“We are not opposed to civilian review of what we do. We already have it and we have had it,” Morgan said. “That’s what the Civil Service Commission is for. It’s not like we’re against citizen review; we have citizen review.”
The ordinance is on the board of directors’ agenda for the voting meeting on July 23. A majority of the board will have to approve it before the citizens review board can be established.