The Little Rock Police Department is still figuring out how to best monitor possible danger at performances and events in the capital city without discouraging artists and acts from entertaining there, Police Chief Kenton Buckner said.
His comments come after the Police Department sent a second letter this month to a concert venue hosting a hip-hop artist to say that police had knowledge of past violence at the artist's shows and to express concern over security.
There's a "slippery slope" to sending such notifications, Buckner said, adding that his department is still learning how to handle being "caught in the middle" of ensuring safety while allowing people to practice their First Amendment rights to perform and attend performances.
In no instance has the Little Rock Police Department demanded the cancellation of a show or put pressure on venues to do so, Buckner stressed in a phone interview Thursday, two days after the most recent letter was sent.
The Tuesday letter expressed security concerns about a Sunday meet-and-greet with artist Jacquees at the La'Changes restaurant on West Roosevelt Road. The performer, whose full name is Rodriquez Jacquees Broadnax, is known for his hit song "B.E.D."
Little Rock's political figures, on the other hand, have sought the cancellation of a recent show.
Two weeks ago, Mayor Mark Stodola and members of the city Board of Directors were shocked after reading a similar concern letter from the police chief about an Oct. 13 performance at iHeart Media Metroplex Live on Colonel Glenn Road by Memphis rapper Moneybagg Yo, whose real name is Demario Dewayne White Jr.
The officials were notified the night before the Moneybagg Yo performance that police knew about gun violence at two of his previous concerts and an instance in New Jersey where his body guards were shot because, according to police, Moneybagg Yo didn't pay a protection fee to a local gang.
After reading that letter, Stodola and some board members, including at-large Directors Dean Kumpuris and Gene Fortson, said they wanted the concert canceled.
Stodola texted the event venue manager, saying it was irresponsible to bring such an artist to the city in the wake of a mass shooting at a different Memphis rapper's nightclub performance in July. He also asked the city attorney to seek a court injunction to stop the show, but the venue ended up canceling the show later that night.
The Police Department sent a similarly worded letter Tuesday to La'Changes owner Herbert Broadway about the Jacquees meet-and-greet.
The letter, signed by Assistant Chief Hayward Finks, said the Police Department's intelligence division had learned of a shooting before a Jacquees concert in February in Iowa. Media reports said the artist did not perform afterward.
The letter also said gang members in Waukegan, Ill., fired shots in July because of Jacquees refusing to pay protection money. No one was injured.
"Due to recent events in Little Rock and throughout the country, it is important that you understand that such events require a significant amount of security," the letter read. It also asked Broadway to contact the Police Department to discuss his security plans.
Reached by phone Thursday, Buckner said the Police Department has made suggestions to some concert venues on the number of security guards and off-duty police officers they should employ at events, as well as other security measures they should take, but that it's up to the venue owners to implement that. He said the Police Department cannot make a club cancel a show or hire more off-duty police.
Buckner said the shooting at the Finesse 2Tymes performance in July at Power Ultra Lounge, in which at least 28 people were injured, caused police to heighten their awareness of potential threats at performances in Little Rock.
The department's intelligence division searches social media posts and takes tips about events that will draw a crowd and then researches the performers to determine any past violent affiliations.
"We are still trying to figure out when, where and how we do this practice that we have started," Buckner said. "An intelligent person could raise the question -- you are going to do this for this concert venue, but we've had incidents at different things in Little Rock. We've had shootings after the fair, after Movies in the Park. How do we consistently and fairly apply our attempt to protect the public without harming those who have a right to do what they're doing?"
When the Moneybagg Yo concert was canceled earlier this month, people in social media posts and in the comment section of online news articles criticized elected officials' efforts to get it shut down.
Banker and pastor Frank Scott Jr., who is exploring a run for mayor in next year's election, issued a news release expressing frustration at Stodola's effort to shut down the show.
"I really look forward to a Little Rock that lives up to its potential. A city where its residents don't have to choose between enjoying entertainment and public safety, a city where individual rights and property rights harmoniously coexist," Scott said.
"I am hopeful that a city with as much potential as Little Rock will never have to choose which venue to keep safe and which venue to close, because all of our citizens deserve safety, and all of our businesses deserve an opportunity for a free enterprise environment," the statement continued.
Stodola responded at the time saying Scott was "naive" and didn't understand elected officials' responsibility to keep the public safe.
He said Thursday in response to some criticism of his previous efforts that he and the city board were given damaging information at the last minute, and they had little time to determine security measures before the Moneybagg Yo performance was to take place.
He also said their mindset was in the context of the July shooting. Finesse 2Tymes, whose real name is Ricky Hampton, had been accused of shooting someone in Forrest City after a concert there the week before his performance in Little Rock.
"People in the community were shocked there was not more advanced knowledge that this performer was going to be in Little Rock, and it really had to do with the fliers that had been put out where he's holding a semiautomatic machine gun," Stodola said. "How come police didn't know about this? Who was doing the checking? ... Any kind of large group gathering where you see there are elements that could turn into some kind of big violent act, it's appropriate for the police chief to at least do a review."
Some people have suggested in online comments that there were racial motivations behind the Police Department's security concerns, noting that the city has expressed concern only about hip-hop acts. Stodola said that's off-base.
"It has nothing to do with the genre of music," he said.
Buckner said Thursday that the Moneybagg Yo concert and Jacquees' meet-and-greet are the only two events for which the department has sent letters about security concerns, so far.
He said police find themselves "smack dab in the middle" of a responsibility to protect people while also ensuring individuals are allowed to practice their legal rights to perform and gather.
"Just because John Doe doesn't like a specific genre of music doesn't mean the police have the right to say these individuals can't perform in our city, which is why our security suggestions are merely suggestions. In no way, shape or form are we trying to target one genre of music. That would be very foolish and narrow-minded on our part. So far, the artists that have come into question based on incidents, it has been hip-hop artists," Buckner said.
"You could probably pull up any genre with the exception of classical and say something happened at the event and the artist had nothing to do with what happened in the parking lot," the chief said.
"It's a very slippery slope for us," Buckner said. "We still need to work and massage our way through this. I don't want to get to where people from an artist standpoint don't want to come here and perform, when we say we are going to be a desired destination."
City Manager Bruce Moore sent city directors the Police Department's letter to Broadway, the owner of La'Changes.
Reached on his cellphone Thursday, Broadway said he was fine with the department's concerns. He already has a metal detector, and he agreed to the department's request to hire two off-duty officers for security, he said.
"I have no problem with them looking out for the public. Prevention is the key. If we can prevent anything from happening, we will," he said.
Broadway said he was told that Jacquees is performing at the Statehouse Convention Center on Sunday before the 11:30 p.m. meet-and-greet at La'Changes. Convention center event managers didn't return phone calls Thursday, but Stodola said Jacquees has never been booked at the convention center and to his knowledge the artist isn't booked at any other venue in the city.
Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson said he wants to know if the letter to Broadway is part of a new city policy or practice, and, if so, where the directive came from -- city management or law enforcement.
"I don't know if we want to set a tone that only certain acts are going to be allowed to be performed in our city. I think if that's the case, then it kind of really puts in my mind a real negative image of the city in terms of how inclusive we are and how inclusive we are going to be," Richardson said.
"The thing I'm concerned about the most is there hasn't been any real proof or evidence that these acts have been or are at the source of violence," he said. "I'm also concerned about the infringement of First Amendment rights and people's individual abilities to make money in this city based on them promoting certain kinds of shows."
Richardson said that even if the Police Department isn't encouraging a venue to shut down a show, the extra focus put on a venue by asking it to provide added security can have a damaging effect on its image.
Fortson, the at-large city director who joined Stodola's concerns about the Moneybagg Yo show earlier this month, said he doesn't want the types of entertainment available in Little Rock to be limited, as long as the city can make sure the public is safe. He wants police to monitor all types of artists, venues and events.
"I don't feel like we need to be limiting the types of performers as far as what they perform. I do think we have performers who have a documented history of violence accompanying their performances, that we've got to put extraordinary security measures in place as a matter of public safety," Fortson said.
"I'll rely on the Police Department's judgment as to whether they can keep a venue safe, but I certainly have a lot of concerns about places that have multiple entrances and a limited number of officers, and performers where shots have been fired at previous performances," he said.
Metro on 10/27/2017