Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announced today that he intended to appoint a panel for a top-to-bottom review of the Little Rock Police Department.
The context includes three lawsuits against Chief Keith Humphrey, a Scott hire whom the mayor has stoutly defended, and a torrent of criticism of Humphrey, a chief for a little more than a year. The Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police has been critical of Humphrey, in addition to the lawsuits claiming he’s retaliated against officers, including two assistant chiefs, who’ve questioned his decisions. He has also been featured in media reports suggesting he’d worked to help a female friend got a high-paying LRPD job. Both he and Scott have refused to address various issues because they are under litigation.
Two city directors have publicly expressed a lack of confidence in the chief — Lance Hines and Capi Peck. Reliable sources say they are not alone as critics on the board, though the mayor has control of the position. By some counts, there are no more than two solid supporters of the chief on the 10-member board. He was hired by Scott a little more than a year ago.
The mayor’s statement indicates he wants a review of both management and rank-and-file, but mentions of nepotism and other elements of the review reflect a belief on the part of Humphrey defenders that he’s been targeted by the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police and others because he’s a change agent who’s upended the old order of things. His critics think he’s been a poor leader, including a belief that he rushed an investigation of a motorist’s killing by Officer Charles Starks to deliver a firing desired by the mayor. A court overturned that decision. The mayor and chief contend they never discussed the matter, which was festering when Humphrey was hired.
The mayor’s statement tonight:
“Since taking office, we have been committed to our ACT Plan – remaining Accountable, Clear, and Transparent as we govern. In recent weeks, both members of the Little Rock Police Department and department leadership have called on the Mayor’s Office to conduct an investigation stemming from three lawsuits filed against the chief of police and the City of Little Rock. Per our standard practice, we do not comment on or interfere with pending litigation. Because of that practice, we have no comment regarding the lawsuits. The facts relevant to those lawsuits will be adjudicated in a court of law.
“However, as the elected Chief Executive Officer of this great city and after extensive discussion with our City Attorney, and in accordance with our ACT Plan, I am calling for an independent, third-party comprehensive review of the entire Little Rock Police Department’s practices and procedures to determine what, if any, corrective actions need to be taken. The scope of this review will cover the following:
1. Personnel Policies and Procedures
2. Handling of Private and Confidential Information
3. Harassment and Misconduct
“The objective of this review is to ensure compliance with best practices in policy, procedure, and protocol within our Police Department. This review will also reassure residents of the LRPD’s integrity. Understand that this review is not about one individual or one organization. It is an attempt to provide insight about any potential concerns with actions, behaviors, or decisions made. It will provide accountability and transparency for more effective policing and reliable governing.
“If you are a resident of Little Rock, you may agree with me that it is long overdue. While I won’t cite all of the systemic issues that exist within the department, here are a few:
2. De-escalation tactics training and cultural competency
3. The Internal Affairs process
4. Abuse of authority
“In the coming days, I will announce who will conduct this review. Even in the midst of this season of turbulence, we remain grateful for the daily sacrifices of our police officers. There are committed men and women who risk their lives every day to serve the residents of Little Rock. I am deeply appreciative and hopeful that this review shines a light on the hard work they do every day. Finally, I am optimistic that this review will foster a more unified police force to create a safer Little Rock.”
Rumors had circulated this week about a potential resolution expressing no confidence in the chief from the city board, or perhaps a letter to the mayor. Neither developed. The sense is that the media is on the trail of the chief — through the pending lawsuits and leaks about his activities, including a damaging report using police patrol video to shed an unflattering light on him. ready The Black Police Officers Association and two black members of the city board have defended him. One black member of the city board has had some issues with his realignment of patrol duties in her ward.
The measure of Scott’s review, first, will be the people he appoints to conduct it.