Little Rock Police Department reorganization plan to shake up chain of command in wake of staffing study, recent promotions

Little Rock Police Department Chief Heath Helton (center) addresses members of the media during a news conference at Police Department headquarters in this March 27, 2023 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)
Little Rock Police Department Chief Heath Helton (center) addresses members of the media during a news conference at Police Department headquarters in this March 27, 2023 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

Divisions across the Little Rock Police Department will experience a shakeup of the chain of command under a reorganization plan to be implemented next month, members of the Little Rock Board of Directors were told during a meeting on Tuesday.

Police Chief Heath Helton told the city board that top police officials arrived at the plan after a lot of disagreements and frank discussions.

The changes, which will become effective June 3, were prompted by a review of the department's staffing resources by a Washington, D.C.-based firm called the Center for Public Safety Management.

The city board in March 2021 voted to authorize the study at a cost of up to $87,500. A detailed report on the study's findings was delivered to the city board last October by the Center for Public Safety Management's Craig Junginger, a retired police chief.

Recommendations included increasing the share of officers on patrol and using civilians to fill certain positions within the department.

Helton told board members Tuesday that department officials have not taken up all 127 recommendations from the report, though some are ongoing and others have been completed.

The reorganization plan also follows recent promotions within the department. Helton was named the city's permanent police chief last December after an interim period in the role, and two majors, Andre Dyer and Troy Ellison, were promoted to fill two of the three assistant chief positions in March.

Helton said Tuesday that "we have to continue to evolve as a department -- look at best practices, look at what's going to be fitting for us and then look at how we've been doing business in the past."

Starting on June 3, civilian police spokesman Mark Edwards will become part of the chief's office, joining Community Relations Manager Laura Martin, Crime Analyst Supervisor Jim Brooks and an administrative services manager in reporting directly to Helton.

Edwards currently reports to a lieutenant in the 21st Century Policing Division, according to the presentation delivered Tuesday.

The three assistant chiefs each oversees a different bureau, and their assignments will not change under the reorganization plan. Dyer is over the Field Services Bureau, Ellison is over the Executive Bureau and Michael "Joe" Miller is over the Investigative Bureau.

Within the Headquarters Division of the Executive Bureau, Maj. Ty Tyrrell will supervise Lt. Michael Terry over records, support and technology (including the department's fleet and real-time crime center) while Lt. Jonathan Prater will be responsible for the property room, warrants and the front desk.

Maj. Cody Miller will remain the commander of the Training Division, but the Extended Leave Unit will join his division, Ellison said Tuesday.

Additionally, officials plan to hire two civilians within the Background/Recruiting Unit to take the place of vacant officer positions there, he said.

Under the reorganization plan, Miller's Investigative Bureau will supervise Maj. Cassandra Davis over the 21st Century Policing Division, Maj. Rusty King over the Special Investigations Division and Maj. Casey Clark over the Major Crimes Division.

The 21st Century Policing Division will now encompass the School Resource Officer Unit, the Community Resource Unit, the Wellness Unit and youth programs, Miller told board members.

The supervision of property crimes across the three patrol divisions will now fall to one lieutenant within the Major Crimes Division, Lt. Tabitha Gurley, instead of three lieutenants handling property crimes, one for each of the patrol divisions, according to Miller.

Additionally, two new civilian positions will oversee the machine used to trace cartridge casings, moving it to the Crime Scene Search Unit and thus freeing up three detectives and a sergeant, Miller said.

The new look of the Field Services Bureau under Dyer will see Maj. Eric Hinsley over the 12th Street Division, Maj. Zac Farley over the Northwest Division and Maj. Christina Plummer over the Southwest Division; Maj. John Lott will now oversee the Special Operations Division.

Officials will split up the Street Crimes Unit in favor of the three patrol divisions each relying on a mobile squad, Dyer said. Those squads will feature a sergeant and four or five officers who will fall under the command of a relief lieutenant, according to the presentation.

Following the presentation, City Director Ken Richardson of Ward 2 praised the makeup of the department's command staff and patrol ranks, describing the personnel as "a beacon of light for our community."

At-large City Director Dean Kumpuris asked about the Center for Public Safety Management's recommendation that the department move toward a 12-hour shift configuration, a change that was not part of the reorganization plan presented Tuesday.

Helton suggested that changing from eight-hour shifts was unnecessary at the moment based on what the department is doing to address crime.

In response to a question from at-large City Director Antwan Phillips regarding how community-oriented policing factored into the reorganization plan, Helton said one community resource officer will be assigned to each patrol division.

The police chief also referred to the role of the new mobile squads, describing them as a nimble group of officers who will be able to address a variety of issues in the community.

Additionally, Helton said that in September the department will deploy what he called behavioral response teams: crisis intervention-trained officers paired with social workers.

These teams will respond to incidents where someone is in a mental health crisis and will work with the unsheltered population, Helton said.

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