BACK IN COURT: Charles Starks with attorney Robert Newcomb at an earlier hearing

John Lynch reports in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today on the latest complaint by Little Rock Police Officer Charles Starks, who won court reversal of his firing by Chief Keith Humphrey over the fatal shooting of Bradley Blackshire in a traffic stop last year.

Starks’ use of force was found justified by Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley and several of his superior officers. Humphrey fired him for failure to follow some departmental guidelines in the stop and use of force.

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The case has now reignited a pet peeve of mine, the Little Rock Police Department’s policy of giving free cars for commuting to a huge number of officers, to the particular benefit of those who don’t deign to live in the city they are paid to defend.

Here’s the latest complaint filed by Starks’ attorney Robert Newcomb.  

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The city REALLY didn’t want Starks back on the force. It had to be forced by Newcomb’s court action to restore his service weapon, badge and police ID.

Now Starks is complaining about his temporary duty assignment on the front desk of the 12th Street Station. He says this is hazardous because he still receives threats and sits in a place open to the public, separated only by glass. He also says his current supervisor and a potential future supervisor are biased against him. His current supervisor, Capt. Crystal Haskins, has said his use of force against Blackshire wasn’t justified.

It was a given that Starks couldn’t expect a prime assignment on return to work. Back on patrol? No way. It is evident that anger about the reinstatement of Starks, who is white, remains high in some quarters, particularly I’d guess in the majority-black neighborhood in which the station sits, just a few miles east down 12th Street from where Blackshire was gunned down. Are you entitled to supervisors who think you acted inappropriately in shooting Blackshire? I’m not so sure.

But let me turn to another point that arose in Newcomb’s complaint, shown below:

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Take-home cars. We are in the second year of a new mayoral administration, with a new police chief, and STILL nothing has been done about this festering sore.

I haven’t updated the numbers lately, but by one count the LRPD provides commuter cars to drive home — gas and service included — for 224 officers. Roughly two-thirds of them are going to residences in cities other than Little Rock. The majority of the police force is white. The majority of the white officers don’t live in Little Rock. The Fraternal Order of Police has often cited high crime and the supposedly inferior (majority black) public schools as a reason to live elsewhere. Starks lives in Cabot.

The argument for take-home calls is that it speeds officer response to emergencies.

SWAT officers? OK, maybe. But really. Emergencies in the accreditation division? At the 12th Street Station front desk? For an officer who’s being kept miles away from service on the street because, at a minimum, he used poor tactics in a traffic stop to check a stolen vehicle report and jumped in front of the car to unleash a fusillade of shots?

No. And all it takes to get a car is to say a guy with the same assignment has one?

If there was ever a case that demonstrated the need for a more serious look at the LRPD commuter car fleet, it’s Charles Starks.