On Thursday, Keith Humphrey got the job he's been waiting more than a decade for -- chief of the Little Rock Police Department.
"I said I wasn't going to get emotional," Humphrey said Thursday in City Hall, sighing heavily. He paused for a moment, turned his face to the floor and wiped his eyes. "This has been a dream come true for me."
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announced Thursday that the Norman, Okla., police chief would lead the Police Department of Arkansas' capital city by April 21, although Humphrey said he hoped to begin work within 21 days.
Scott, who has many times said the selection of a new police chief could be the most important decision he makes as mayor, said he hoped Humphrey's appointment would be a watershed moment for the city.
"Chief Humphrey stood out as the best candidate to build and strengthen bridges between the community and the police," Scott said.
Scott said he valued Humphrey's "focus on crime reduction through community policing, which is very important to me, and the understanding of cultural competency."
Humphrey was one of four finalists for the position that initially drew 57 applicants. The search for a new chief began more than four months ago.
Former Police Chief Kenton Buckner left in mid-November to lead the police force in Syracuse, N.Y. The Little Rock job was posted as vacant shortly after, and Humphrey was among the first to apply.
After being named among the top 10 candidates for the position in January, Humphrey said he'd had his eye on the position for years.
In 2008, when he left his longtime job at the Police Department in Arlington, Texas, Humphrey said he didn't feel ready to take on the Little Rock chief's position. In 2014, when then-Chief Stuart Thomas retired, Humphrey said he'd already committed to leading Norman's department, and he didn't want to break that commitment.
But when the job opening was posted in November, Humphrey said he knew he was ready.
"I think it's the will of God that this is open," Humphrey said.
Humphrey takes the Little Rock job in a tumultuous time, with litigation, an officer-involved shooting and mounting community unrest ensnaring the department.
"I don't think that this city or this Police Department is broken, but I do think there needs to be some serious repair here," Humphrey said. "I want you all to hold me accountable. ... That's what I want."
For months, police administrators and city representatives have been talking about the division between some Little Rock communities and the Police Department. Those divisions were again apparent over the past month after an officer shot and killed 30-year-old Little Rock resident Bradley Blackshire.
On Feb. 22, officer Charles Starks fired his department-issued weapon at least 15 times during a traffic stop involving Blackshire near West 12th Street and Kanis Road, according to dashboard-camera footage. Starks stepped in front of the moving vehicle Blackshire was driving and fired at least 12 shots from the car's hood through the windshield, the video shows.
In the weeks since Blackshire's death, his relatives and members of the community have held a vigil at the place where he died and turned out Tuesday at a city board meeting to demand justice from city directors and the mayor.
In addition to the backlash from that shooting, there are allegations of racial bias within the Police Department. Four officers have filed suit, alleging discrimination. Also, the department has received national attention over reports of civil-rights violations in the use of no-knock warrants and allegations of lack of oversight.
Humphrey said he will do all he can to rectify the situation.
"I think it's important to listen," he said. "You have to listen to see what the problem is. That's internally and externally. That's going to be a big focus. I've dealt with major incidents, and I fully understand the concerns from the Police Department and the community."
"We'll get through this, I have no doubt," he said.
As for his plans for his first days in the new job, Humphrey said he will focus on getting to know the community and the officers.
Humphrey submitted his resume on Nov. 25, less than a week after the application period for the Little Rock job opened. In his application, Humphrey said one of his objectives is "recognizing that the police department exists only because citizens allow the department to exist. The department owes the community top quality customer service. No exceptions."
Humphrey started his career in 1988 in Fort Worth, where he was an officer and investigator for seven years. He moved in 1995 to Arlington, where he served as a patrolman, recruiter and police academy instructor before becoming a sergeant and, eventually, a police commander.
In 2008, after 13 years in Arlington, Humphrey moved to the Police Department in Lancaster, Texas, where he took his first chief-of-police position.
During his time in Lancaster, he earned a master's degree from Amberton University. He also holds a bachelor's degree in management from Texas A&M University at Commerce.
In 2011, he took the job of chief of police in Norman, where he has led the department since.
The advertised salary for the Little Rock position was $142,663, an increase from Humphrey's Norman salary of about $122,000, according to media reports.
Norman has about 125,000 residents compared with Little Rock's 198,000 and the Police Department is smaller, with fewer than half of Little Rock's 594 sworn officers.
Norman had an average of two homicides each year between 2002 and 2016. When asked about the smaller department and the lower crime rate, Humphrey said Norman might be quieter, but his work in Arlington, Lancaster and Fort Worth has prepared him for dealing with a higher violent-crime rate.
"We've got to get away from the mindset that Little Rock is a violent city," Humphrey said. "We're going to get away from that perception."
Humphrey's resume shows that, throughout his time in law enforcement, he has been an active member of the communities in which he lived. He was in Rotary Clubs, youth service organizations and Big Brother Big Sister programs.
While police chief in Lancaster, he was on the board of a housing authority and a women's shelter.
Humphrey said people shouldn't consider him a "five-year chief."
"I'm here," Humphrey said. "I stand here before the citizens and my co-workers to say I'm here as long as you'll have me."
Police Department assistant chiefs Hayward Finks and Alice Fulk were among the four finalists for the chief's position, along with former Los Angeles police commander Todd Chamberlain.
"Our top four finalists were an outstanding group of law enforcement professionals," Scott said. "I appreciate their service. And in the case of our two internal candidates, I thoroughly appreciate their time, their commitment and their service to the city of Little Rock."
Scott said that although the hiring decision was ultimately his, his choice was greatly influenced by city stakeholders and community members.
"I congratulate Chief Humphrey," Fulk said. "And I'm thankful that I made it to the finalists. In a group like that, I'm thankful for the opportunity. I have a lot of respect for Chief Humphrey, and I look forward to helping him be the best chief he can be in whatever way I can."
Finks and Fulk said their immediate plans are to remain with the department.
"The mayor has made his decision, and I would first of all like to welcome Chief Humphrey," Finks said. "I hope the city gets behind Chief Humphrey so he can be successful in his new role as our police chief."
Little Rock's third assistant chief, Wayne Bewley, has been interim chief for more than a month. Humphrey said Bewley will stay in that position until Humphrey takes over in April.
"I'm humbled, I can't say anything else," Humphrey said. "I'm ready to say 'our department.' I'm not going to say the department, it's our department. I'm ready."
Keith Humphrey talks about his vision for the Little Rock Police Department when he takes over as chief. “We’ve got to get away from the mindset that Little Rock is a violent city,” Humphrey said at a news conference Thursday at City Hall announcing his hiring.
Metro on 03/22/2019
Print Headline: After search of 4 months, Little Rock hires new police chief