'I CAN COMMUNICATE WITH EVERYONE:' Police Chief Keith Humphrey says communication is his strong suit. Brian Chilson

After being selected by Mayor Frank Scott Jr. as the chief of the Little Rock Police Department in April, Keith Humphrey has made a few controversial decisions during his first 100 days in office. Following the decision of Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley not to indict former LRPD officer Charles Starks, who shot and killed Bradley Blackshire during a traffic stop in February, Humphrey terminated Starks’ employment, despite several other high-ranking officers’ recommending that Starks be cleared of wrongdoing. Last week, Humphrey and Scott presented an ordinance to the City Board that would create a citizens review board ordinance for the LRPD. On Tuesday night, despite concern about the structure of the citizens review board from the Fraternal Order of Police and the Black Police Officers Association, city directors tied five to five in a vote on the ordinance; Scott made the tie-breaking vote to establish the board. The Times sat down with Humphrey to learn more about the next steps for the citizens review board, the police department and his impressions of life in Little Rock.

How are you feeling about the citizens review board ordinance passing on Tuesday night?

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I think it’s a good move. The key now is to make sure that we design a board that meets the needs of the city of Little Rock. One of the things I would say is that the mayor is not taking a canned product. We’re going to ensure that it works for us. 

So I’m excited. We still have a lot of work to do, and there’s still a lot of questions, especially from both police unions, and they’re good questions. I think we can all work together and get this process rolling and completed. 

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Mayor Scott mentioned at Tuesday night’s board meeting that since the emergency clause ordinance, which would create the citizens review board immediately, failed to pass, the city will have to wait 30 days before establishing the board. He said he’ll be using that time to “educate the public” about the review board. What will that education look like? 

I think the main thing is what the purpose of the board [is] and going out into the community and getting community partners involved. Basically saying, giving them a complete understanding of what this board is. This is voluntary … not a mandate. We’ve worked really hard with the community services unit of the Department of Justice, not the enforcement side … [to] understand … what we need to do. So, No. 1, it’s voluntary. No. 2, [we will be] explaining the purpose, the board is going to be formed, and also that the board doesn’t circumvent our current Civil Service Commission. There’s a lot of confusion there. I think those are things we need to get out to the community. We need to re-emphasize that to the unions, and I think those are very important keys. The community must have feedback in this. 

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How will the city be providing this education? Public forums, information sessions? 

I think there’s a possibility of all of those. I don’t think there’s any one particular way that we’re going to do this. I think all those options are on the table. 

You mentioned working with the unions, as they do have some confusion and questions about this. You being such a big part of drafting this ordinance, and with  your decision to terminate Starks, these are pretty bold decisions that you’ve made in your first few months as chief. Do you feel that this may be alienating at all to your fellow officers? 

No, I don’t think so. I think you’re always going to have people that are not going to agree with what I do, but it’s my responsibility to have those open communications with the staff, answer those questions when they have them. I’ve gone to the majority of the briefings, and I’ve been open: ‘Hey, let’s talk about anything that you want to.’ I’ve expressed my vision for the organization and why things occur, and I think they understand. I think what would be detrimental is if I stopped communicating, if I stopped being open, if I start being untruthful. I think that’s what would be detrimental. I think all the officers want is they want me to be honest, and they want to be heard. Then I take that message to the mayor. I just think that if I break down communication, eliminate it, then that’s going to be the problem. 

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At last night’s board meeting, Rodney Lewis, president of the Black Police Officers Association, said ‘all we want is a seat at the table,’ and I feel that was a pretty accurate summary of what both the BPOA and the FOP want out of this process. 

And what I think a lot of the community doesn’t know is [that] there’s been ongoing dialogue with the mayor, the FOP and BPOA. Just in recent days and recent weeks, they’ve expressed their concerns. The mayor’s been open to that and understands. That process will continue. I don’t see the mayor cutting off any forms of communication with anyone regarding this. I have conversations with them, and I express my concerns. I think that’s important. You’ve got to be able to communicate. I think if I had a strong point, if I had to say, I think [it would be] my ability to communicate with everyone, not just with officers but with citizens, people in local or state or federal government. I think I can communicate with anyone. 

Now that you’ve been here for over 100 days, has your impression of Little Rock changed at all? Has anything surprised you? 

[It’s a] very warm city. It’s a very receptive city. People here are not afraid to tell you what’s on their mind, you know where you stand, and what I like is people will give you an opportunity here to be successful. I don’t think anyone wants anyone to fail here; I think everybody wants you to be successful, or the majority of the city, they want you to be successful. But they’ve welcomed me just like I was born and raised here. 

And I’m very familiar with Little Rock. I’ve not lived here, but I’ve [been] here for conferences, and I know people here. So that’s what was really intriguing about this job, already kind of knowing about the city, and it’s everything that I thought it would be. It’s not a bad city. I think the city gets a lot of bad publicity based on what happened 20 [or] 30 years ago, but the current state of Little Rock is amazing. The growth, the current state of this department is amazing. The willingness to be proactive and find better ways to be proactive, and now we’re seeing the department welcoming more external relationships. I think it’s everything that I thought it would be. I haven’t seen anything that’s surprising. 

As far as what are things that I’d like to see improved, I think the technology. I think we’ve got to update the technology, or we have to stay in tune with technology. I think also, we’ve got to continue to recruit top-notch citizens. I would love for every academy class that we have to have the entire class be Little Rock residents. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. That’s just not going to happen in law enforcement, where you’re going to have a class full of your local citizens. But I think when people see how professional our organization is, we’re attracting a better candidate. So I’m excited. My first Little Rock graduation will occur next Friday, and I’m excited about that. Then we start an academy on the 19th of August. It’s been really good to promote some really qualified supervisors. I was able to promote two captains and several lieutenants, and several sergeants in the last couple of weeks, so that’s really exciting for them and for our department. 

Something we talk about in our … [meetings] is our 80 percent clearance rate in our homicides, which is really unheard of. The clearance rate is arrests — once you make an arrest, you clear that case. …That’s a key. We’re putting bad people in jail, we’re continually looking for ways to continue to increase our footprint in the city when it comes to preventing violence and just lowering crime. We’ve got a 6 percent decrease in violent crime right now, and that’s a good thing. So we’re going to continue to build from that. 

So when you mention technology, is that updating computer systems? Is that making sure you guys are using the latest equipment? What’s the status with the body cameras, which the department has issued Requests For Proposals for?  

Yes, to all of the above. [With] body cameras, that’s a priority. We’re just waiting to see if we receive the grant we applied for that would assist us in purchasing the body cameras. I have not run into any officers in the department that are against that. We already have video technology in each patrol car, so this is just an additional tool. So we’re excited about that. We’re looking at maintaining Shot Spotter, other technology, so yeah, it is all of the above when it comes to having the technology to help us be a better department and to be cutting edge. 

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Anything to add that I didn’t ask you about? 

I like the media here. 

Why? 

I think y’all are giving me a fair shot. I think with [LRPD Spokesman] Lt.[Michael] Ford, he’s established that relationship, and the media’s been great. We’re not going to always agree, but they’ve been very respectful.