Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. on Tuesday evening presented to city directors an ordinance that would establish an independent police review board.
The city Board of Directors agreed to add the proposal to the agenda for its meeting next Tuesday. Some city directors were supportive of the measure; some were hesitant to vote on it within a week.
The proposed ordinance would establish a five-member body that would review police actions by investigating complaints from the public dealing with corruption, discrimination and use of force resulting in injury or death. It would advise the mayor and police chief about its findings and provide an annual written report to the city Board of Directors.
It would be a way to strengthen police-community relationships and provide an outlet where complaints can be heard while keeping both the public and officers safe, Scott said.
Ordinance to establish LRPD citizen review boardView
A review board for the Little Rock Police Department could be the first of its kind in the state. Scott has been pushing for such a board since before taking office on Jan. 1 and with heightened urgency after the fatal shooting of 30-year-old Bradley Blackshire by a Little Rock officer on Feb. 22.
Little Rock, along with other Arkansas cities, has a civil service commission, made up of seven residents who are responsible for overseeing personnel disputes, promotions and regulation or policy violations involving the Little Rock fire and police departments.
Human Resources Director Stacey Witherell told the Board of Directors on Tuesday that the civil service commission is not tasked with reviewing complaints of corruption or discrimination. If it's established, she said, the citizen review board will deal with those complaints as well as use-of-force issues, and the civil service commission will take on complaints that fall outside those areas.
Police Chief Keith Humphrey said the review board would have some investigative power in deciding which complaints to look into. Before taking over the Little Rock Police Department earlier this year, Humphrey was police chief in Norman, Okla., and established a citizen review board there. He said he developed that program and the Little Rock proposal in consultation with the U.S. Department of Justice, adding he felt that giving complaints a second look would be good for residents.
"I think in the next five to seven years, you will see this become mandatory in law enforcement," Humphrey said.
Humphrey said he had talked about his desire to form a review board in meetings with Little Rock residents when he was a finalist for police chief, and with the two police unions, the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police and the Black Police Officers Association.
Fraternal Order of Police President Ronnie Morgan said the union had some concerns with the ordinance, particularly with board members having access to open investigations and discussing personnel issues in a public forum. He added that there was concern among union members about checks and balances for the board.
"Our country is run on checks and balances, and there are none in this ordinance. The mayor appoints this board, and the only time the Board of Directors is involved is when they have an annual review," Morgan told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "We're not opposed to being reviewed by citizens, we just have some concerns with the way this ordinance is prepared."
Some city directors were supportive, while others balked.
"I think when we can do things that help build trust with the community, I think that's a great thing," Ward 3 City Director Kathy Webb said. "I'm all for anything we can do that builds good relationships with the community and with the police."
Ward 6 City Director Doris Wright said a review board would be a good way to educate the public about police protocol. She said she recalled talk of such a board being established several years ago, but it never went before city directors.
At-large City Director Dean Kumpuris said he thought the ideas were good, but he suggested setting up a process in which city leaders have more time to talk to the community about the proposed board. He noted the months that Humphrey said he took in Norman to familiarize the community with the concept.
"The reason it's working there is that you took time to educate the community," Kumpuris said.
Scott said the idea had already been discussed in the community for more than a year, referring to the mayoral race that led to his election on Dec. 4.
"We are living in times where sometimes we're not afforded time," Scott said. "This is something where we can be ... proactive as it relates to community concern. We don't want a certain issue to arise without certain protocols in place."
There are more than 100 civilian review boards in municipalities nationwide, and their powers and structures vary, according to the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. Scott said they are becoming more common in mid- to large-size cities, mentioning San Antonio and Nashville, Tenn.
Information for this article was contributed by Clara Turnage of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Metro on 07/17/2019
Print Headline: Little Rock mayor proposes five-member body to investigate complaints against police