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Little Rock board hears findings from independent audit of Police Department policies

Discretion given to chief flagged by Joseph Flaherty | October 27, 2021 at 7:19 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock Police Department headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo.

Members of the Little Rock Board of Directors on Tuesday heard the results of an independent review of the Police Department by an outside research group after the city commissioned the audit amid departmental turmoil last year.

A written report from the Arlington, Va.-based research nonprofit CNA was published on Little Rock's website the same day as the meeting.

The final report produced as a result of the audit delves into how the department's stated policies and procedures compare with what analysts believe to be best practices for policing.

[DOCUMENT: Report produced as result of audit of Little Rock Police Department ​» arkansasonline.com/1027report/]

Additionally, the report examines data drawn from the department's internal investigations.

"While the overall number of administrative investigations has decreased over time, this is driven by decreases in investigations of non-sworn members, whereas investigations of sworn members has increased in recent years," the report states.

Tuesday's discussion of the completed audit followed Mayor Frank Scott Jr.'s announcement one day earlier that no disciplinary action would be taken against Police Chief Keith Humphrey after a human resources investigation.

Humphrey's leadership has been under fire since last year, when the chief was hit with legal claims of retaliation filed by several of his colleagues, including two of the department's assistant chiefs serving at the time.

A 2020 letter to city leaders signed by 10 members of the Police Department's command staff claimed that Humphrey was the source of a toxic and hostile work environment.

The city moved to initiate the independent audit of the Police Department last year as the lawsuits continued to swirl around the chief.

A written statement from Scott on Monday announced Humphrey would face no discipline from the human resources investigation conducted by an Arkansas Tech University associate professor, Loretta Cochran.

Scott suggested the investigation had been tainted by bias in light of Cochran's ties to a complainant.

The mayor added that the report "offered many conclusory statements without actual findings of fact, while misstating or misinterpreting the relevant legal standards, and the evidence provided does not support the complaints filed."

Though the release of the audit's findings came the same week as the mayor's announcement on the conclusion of the human resources investigation, the two investigations were separate.

Little Rock ultimately tapped CNA to conduct the audit following a bid process. The Center for Justice Research and Innovation, housed at CNA, conducted the review.

CNA's written product -- titled "Final Report: Independent Audit of the City of Little Rock's Police Department" -- numbers 69 pages, not including appendices.

More than 30 key findings are listed in its executive summary. Those findings include:

• "The accountability system provides significant discretion to the Chief of Police, which allows for potentially inappropriate intervention."

• "General orders related to the accountability system do not provide adequate definitions of key terms and concepts."

• "Allegations, findings, and discipline are perceived by LRPD members to be inconsistently applied."

• "Accountability system data indicate an increase in complaints filed against patrol members within the past three years."

• "The performance evaluation process is subjective."

• "Performance evaluations appear to have little significance for an employee's professional development, and the current performance evaluation process does not encourage growth, learning, or improving skill sets."

The report says, "Many of the findings and recommendations noted in this report are not unique to LRPD and include challenges that police agencies nationwide are facing."

Two officials from CNA appeared virtually via teleconference software Tuesday to deliver a summary of their findings to the city board and take questions.

Thomas Christoff, a senior research scientist with CNA, told board members the audit was meant to determine whether the Police Department's policies and procedures reflected national best practices.

He said the organization reviewed documents, analyzed five years' worth of accountability data, and conducted focus groups and targeted interviews with department personnel.

The audit identified more than 80 findings, he said, each with between one to four recommendations.

With regard to the department's accountability system, Christoff said, "One of our main findings was the potential for subjectivity throughout the process. For instance, we found that there was heavy reliance on the chief's discretion, including at the initial stages of a complaint in determining the administrative path that the administrative complaint would take."

Focus groups indicated police personnel felt to some extent that the accountability system could be unfair or not impartial, he said.

Accountability data showed non-white women personnel received fewer complaints than would be expected based on their representation within the department. However, they received a higher number of allegations per complaint, waited longer for complaints to be resolved, and had a higher sustained rate, Christoff said.

Ben Carleton, a senior research specialist with CNA, told board members that performance evaluations within the department were not conducted in a consistent manner across officers.

He added that "performance evaluations have very little, if any, impact for an employee's professional development, thus leading to the process not being taken seriously by officers and supervisors alike."

De-escalation and cultural competency trainings were not viewed in practice as part of the audit, he said.

Carleton said they found the department's attention to de-escalation during in-service and academy training courses increased between 2016 and 2020.

However, some officers still desire additional training on de-escalation, use of force and crisis intervention, he said.

Police personnel said in interviews and focus groups that training courses on implicit bias and cultural diversity "are not always well-received by officers," Carleton said. "Personnel stated that it depends who you ask and that some bias-based training immediately shuts people down."

The review found existing nepotism policies at both the city and department level could potentially be insufficient, according to the presentation.

Christoff said the department's policy focuses on familial relationships and does not include non-familial relationships that might present a conflict.

Additionally, he said the department's general order on nepotism is housed under an order on transfers and assignment requests, and the audit recommended a stand-alone general order related to nepotism.

A departmental policy on harassment could be improved by recognizing that harassment can be based on a number of factors, Christoff said. At times, the general order on harassment is unclear as to whether it is talking about racial harassment, sexual harassment or harassment in general, he explained.

The audit also recommended removing a section from a general order that warns employees "they may be disciplined and subject to criminal proceedings if their allegations are determined to be not factual," Christoff said.

The city had formed a nine-member independent review committee last year to oversee the audit process. Committee members received a draft of the report for CNA to solicit their feedback, Christoff said.

In response to a question from City Director B.J. Wyrick of Ward 7, Christoff at one point said he did not believe CNA examined the number of officers who were dismissed as a result of internal versus divisional investigations.

At another juncture, questioned by Vice Mayor Lance Hines of Ward 5, Christoff said researchers did not examine particular cases with regard to their finding that the accountability system provides significant discretion to the chief.

Toward the end of the discussion, Scott noted that many of the department's policies have been in place for decades, while others were implemented in 2019 -- the first year of his mayoral administration.

Reiterating part of his statement issued the day before, Scott said he had asked Humphrey to appoint a task force composed of members of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Black Police Officers Association to review the audit's findings and work toward an implementation plan.

Print Headline: Review of police heard by LR board

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