In a Little Rock City Board meeting Tuesday evening, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. made the tie-breaking vote to approve an ordinance he and Police Chief Keith Humphrey presented to the board last week that will create a citizens review board for the Little Rock Police Department. The emergency clause to create the board immediately, which was contained in a separate ordinance, did not pass, so the board cannot be established for another 30 days.
Scott said his administration will take this time to “educate the public” about the citizens review board. He added that he will not begin immediately appointing members to the commission as soon as the 30 days are up.
Directors Kathy Webb, Capi Peck, Erma Hendrix, Ken Richardson and Doris Wright voted for the ordinance, while Dean Kumpuris, Joan Adcock, Lance Hines, Gene Fortson and Vice Mayor B.J. Wyrick voted against it. The mayor is only able to vote in order to break a tie, so Scott was able to vote for his ordinance.
At the start of the meeting, Peck moved to table the ordinance until Aug. 20 so the board could have an “opportunity” to review the memo sent by City Attorney Tom Carpenter to the board on shortly before the meeting began. Peck requested the memo from Carpenter last week, asking for him to explain the legality and responsibilities of the citizens review board. None of the directors gave Peck’s motion a “second,” so it failed.
To read Carpenter’s memo in its entirety, click here.
Chad Cumming, the attorney representing the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police who sent a letter on its behalf to the board on Monday, spoke at the meeting and shared many of the concerns included in the letter. Cumming said there was “no need” for a citizens review board, saying civilian review of police actions already occurs. He also emphasized that the citizens review board ordinance does not follow Department of Justice guidelines for the type of board it purports to be modeled after, which is that of an “auditor” that investigates the process through which the LRPD receives and investigates complaints in order to ensure it’s fair and thorough.
“Under Section 8 of this ordinance, the [citizens review board] would be able to reach three conclusions,” Cumming said. “One, that the investigation is incomplete; two, that it concurs with the completed investigation; or [three], that the investigation’s findings are not supported by the facts. So this is not a review of the processes and procedures. This is an investigative body. This is a determination of facts.”
Rodney Lewis, president of the Black Police Officers Association, spoke next, and told city leaders that the BPOA collaborated with the FOP about speaking before the board.
“We would support [a citizens review board] if the language was right inside of the ordinance, but as of right now, what we’ve read from the ordinance, we don’t agree with a number of things that [are] involved,” Lewis said.
Lewis told Scott that in order to “get this right,” the police department wants to “come to the table and sit down with you.”
“There’s a number of people that can be on this board, and without us knowing, without having any input on who those people are, we’d like to at least have a Q&A session with them, a vetting process, so we know we’re getting the right people to sit in on this board,” Lewis said.
Lewis shared similar concerns as those of the FOP, saying it “appears” like the citizens review board “almost circumvents” the chief of police and his “decision making,” since the ordinance allows the board to review an investigation after the chief has issued a decision on it.
Scott told Lewis that the BPOA and the FOP will “continue to have an open line of communication” with the mayor’s office, saying there will be times when the parties have to “agree to disagree.”
“All we want is a seat at the table,” Lewis concluded.
“And you have one,” Scott replied.
Eve Jorgensen, leader of the Arkansas Chapter of gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action, spoke in support of the ordinance, saying the ordinance isn’t a “separate investigation,” but a “much-needed quality control” to ensure the current investigative process is working as it should.
“One extra layer of review can only help, while the perceived lack of accountability can be very divisive,” Jorgensen said. “My hope is that this review board will help the citizens of Little Rock trust the process more, and that the number of these cases of use of force will lower. By allowing this level of transparency and empowering the community, I am hopeful we may finally see a new level of trust between our community and police.”
State Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) also shared her support for the ordinance, saying she represents residents living in the 72204 zip code in Little Rock, which “sees more interaction with law enforcement than any other zip code.”
“We hear that there’s not a need for [a citizens review board],” Elliott said. “I understand that there is a need because of what I see and hear every day, and what I would really like is for the police officers not to think this is some kind of attack on them. It is not. It is really time for the community and the police to come together, and not see each other as the enemy. And this is one way of doing that, and we will work together, and not think of it as a zero-sum game.”
Elliott also addressed the FOP’s complaint that the ordinance does not contain by-laws for the citizens review board, saying that it’s customary for a board to write its own by-laws after it’s “constituted” and they’re “not supposed to be in the ordinance.” She added that according to her research, there are around “150 to 200” cities in the country that have similar boards.
“If we think about this only as a political endeavor, we’re going to miss the point of this being community-building,” Elliott said. “We cannot see it that way.”
A few directors then shared their support for the ordinance, beginning with Hendrix, city director of Ward 1.
“I’ve been sitting here for 13 years, and if it’s ever a time that I’ve seen race rise to its highest level, it’s now,” Hendrix said. She then asked whether Cumming, who spoke for the FOP, was a lawyer. Scott told her he was.
“You know, lawyers don’t know everything,” Hendrix said. “They can speak what they want to speak.”
Webb, city director of Ward 3, said she has “faith in the mayor” and “faith in the city board.”
“And I have faith that with the [citizens review board] appointments, that you will vet appointees, and that we will vet those appointees. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about 21st century policing,” Webb said. “The role that we play as elected officials, as city officials, is fostering trust and promoting transparency. This ordinance gives us an opportunity to do that: to build bridges, to build trust.
“I support the police, I support the community, and I don’t think 150-200 other cities would have passed this and keep passing it if it were something that didn’t work,” Webb added.
Richardson, city director of Ward 2, said that while the creation of a citizens review board is not a “panacea” for fixing relationships between communities and police, the board can act as a “segue” to create a more “community-engaged” process.
“Here’s what I find interesting,” Richardson said. “The places where we need the heaviest police presence happens to be the places where they have the worst community-police relationships.”
Richardson added that this is not an “attack on police,” saying that since he’s been on the board of directors, “there’s been no department, no entity in the city of Little Rock, that’s enjoyed more support from this board than the police department. Unquestioned support.”
At-large director Adcock said she would be voting against the ordinance because she, and the board, did not have time to read the 34-page memo sent by Carpenter earlier on Tuesday.
At-large director Kumpuris also said he believed the board was rushing into a decision about the ordinance.
“I think that in principle, what you’re talking about is great,” Kumpuris said. “And I think if we took the time to really look at it and properly think about it, and have the input of all the citizens, we could come to something we’re all happy with. I don’t think in my time on this board, that I’ve had the entire police department [say,] ‘Slow down,’ [or] that have said, ‘Let us have time to participate,’ [or said] that ‘We want to have something to help us police, but we don’t feel included.’ And I think that speaks volumes to what we’re doing.”
Peck, who previously asked for a delay on the ordinance, said she’s “just going to have to trust,” and would be supporting the ordinance.
The board then tied in its vote on the ordinance, with Scott voting “yes” and breaking the tie. The emergency clause to create the board immediately, which was a separate ordinance, failed, so the city will wait 30 days before beginning any efforts to establish it.
The board also approved an ordinance authorizing the creation of “entertainment districts” in the city of Little Rock, which designates certain areas in the city as places where people can consume alcohol from an open beverage container, either by wearing an “identification wristband” from an establishment or drinking from an approved “uniform beverage container.”
The board then approved an ordinance authorizing the designation of the River Market as a “permanent” entertainment district, which encompasses “all public places” within “block 1 of Pope’s Addition” in Little Rock and “30 feet of each side” of the centerline of the street for 20 blocks in downtown Little Rock: the 300 -600 blocks of President Clinton Avenue, the 100 block of North Rock Street, and the 100 block of St. Vincent Plaza, or the 100 block of North 22 Commerce Street.
The ordinance allows people in the River Market Entertainment District who are wearing wristbands or drinking from approved containers to openly consume alcohol in public on Fridays from 5 p.m. to midnight, on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to midnight, and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. It also outlines special holidays during which people can drink openly in the district: New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July and Christmas Eve.
Adcock and Wyrick both expressed concern about children and teenagers running rampant in the River Market and trying to fool police into thinking they’re of drinking age or otherwise aggravating law enforcement.
Webb, Peck, Hines, Wright, Kumpuris and Fortson all voted to both approve the creation of entertainment districts in the city and to create the River Market Entertainment District; Richardson, Adcock and Wyrick voted against both ordinances, and Hendrix voted “present” during both votes.