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Little Rock working on filling police force

In North Little Rock, low turnover rate cited for enough strength in ’21 by Grant Lancaster | January 23, 2022 at 3:52 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock Police Department headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo.

Despite concerns over manpower expressed by Little Rock's mayor in recent months, the number of officers within the city's Police Department in 2021 was near its highest point since 2016, and across the river North Little Rock police officials said their agency is "blessed" with a low turnover rate that allows them to have the manpower needed to patrol the city.

[OFFICER STRENGTH: Bar chart not appearing above? Click here » arkansasonline.com/123pdstaff/]

In October, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott cited the need for 100 more officers to bring the department up to strength, saying he intended to raise pay and offer a $10,000 signing bonus to attract new officers and increase retention.

At the same news conference, Police Chief Keith Humphrey noted the shortage of police was a national issue, aggravated by a negative perception of policing and, to a degree, the covid-19 pandemic.

Humphrey also expressed frustration that some saw it as an issue specific to Little Rock.

It's true the Little Rock Police Department is below its total allotted number of sworn officers, but the department has hired and retained hundreds of officers since 2016, according to data provided by the city.

[POLICE DEPARTURES: Pie charts not appearing above? Click here » arkansasonline.com/123departures/]

The department is allotted 593 sworn officers and 108 civilian personnel. At the end of 2021, it reported 530 sworn officers, putting the department at 89% capacity.

Some of these sworn officers include high-ranking personnel, including Humphrey and police majors who do not frequently patrol the city.


Counting only personnel designated as "police officer" in the data, there were 412 officers at the end of 2021. Some of those -- around 30 -- work at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport or with schools as resource officers.

At the end of 2021, 20 officers and one sergeant were working with schools, and nine officers and four sergeants were stationed at the airport. Ten more were listed as being in rookie school.

Even if these numbers are discounted from the roster of active patrol officers, the situation is hardly a crisis, Little Rock police spokesman Mark Edwards said.

"Some years you may be down a few more, some years you may not be," Edwards said. "There's a lot of factors involved in that."

Edwards said he would be concerned if the number slipped lower, closer to 60-70% capacity, and the city could not bring it up with recruiting efforts.


The data provided offered a look at force strength at the beginning and end of 2021, but the other years provided offered only a single count, and it was not immediately clear when the count was taken.

In 2020, the data shows about 534 sworn personnel total, a bit higher than the end of last year.

The low point in the data provided came in 2016, when the data shows only 376 sworn personnel, with 259 police officers reflected in the data.

That would have been during the tenure of former Chief Kenton Buckner, who led the department from 2014 to 2018.

Since 2016, the number of patrol officers has increased nearly every year, with a slight dip by the end of 2021, from 429 to 412.

Edwards, who joined the department in October 2020, attributed the increase to redoubled recruiting efforts.

"I think in that aspect we have stepped up," Edwards said.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK

In North Little Rock, where the department is authorized 160 uniformed officer positions, the department has reported at least 140 sworn officers at the start of every year since 2019. On the first day of 2022, the department reported 136 officers, but the city's Human Resources Director Betty Anderson said five officers are set to start by the end of January.

Good leadership from the department and the city has led to a low turnover rate that has mitigated the effect of any nationwide slump in police recruiting, department spokeswoman Sgt. Carmen Helton said.

"Our turnover rate typically isn't as high as other departments," Helton said.

The city has focused on increasing pay for new recruits and existing officers, saying it's important the city stays competitive with other departments looking to hire.

"We're all fishing out of that same pond [ in central Arkansas]," Helton said.

Critics of Scott and Humphrey have called into question the Little Rock department's ability to retain officers. Several high-ranking officers have left the department amid lawsuits with Humphrey and the city -- most recently, former Assistant Chief Hayward Finks, who took a position with North Little Rock schools in December.

The idea that disgruntled Little Rock officers are seeking work with North Little Rock to avoid conflict within the department is "not accurate," Helton said. She said she could only think of one police officer who had left Little Rock in recent years to join North Little Rock.

The data provided supports that, with the only apparent crossover being David Mattox, who was terminated by the Little Rock Police Department in 2021 and joined North Little Rock police shortly after.

Helton and Edwards said the covid-19 pandemic had a limited effect on officer retention.

"I think people are just dealing with it," Edwards said. "You get tired of it, all the precautions, but I think people are just tired of dealing with covid."

Although he said he believes the department's recruiting efforts have been successful, Edwards said it can be difficult because of how policing has changed over the years. The widespread use of phones with video cameras and criticism toward police surrounding the highly publicized killing of George Floyd in 2020 by Minneapolis police has changed the game.

The Little Rock department is now looking for "a different type of officer," Edwards said.

"You have to have a different type of temperament now," he said. "You have to find an officer that's built like that."




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