LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. says he is fulfilling one of his big campaign promises. As part of what he is declaring Public Safety Month, he plans to create a citizen review board for the Little Rock Police Department.
“Public safety remains a top pillar and top priority of my administration,” Scott said Wednesday.
Scott said he is drafting an ordinance that he hopes to present to the city’s Board of Directors at its next meeting.
“A citizen review board is a function where the community is involved in understanding, after the fact, something that the police department has decided to do,” he explained.
“It’s been done in many other progressive cities around the nation. We’ve seen it in San Antonio. We’ve seen it also in Norman, Oklahoma, where Chief [Keith] Humphrey comes from. He had a citizens advisory board; this is very similar.”
Scott said the review board fits the broader focus that he and Humphrey have on community policing as a way to improve the relationship between the community and the police.
“Moving from what we’ve been focused on—and continue to focus on—is building those relationships, but now building trust,” he mentioned. “And you build trust by making certain that everyone’s at the table when policies are determined in the most effective manner.”
Scott said the review board would meet with LRPD’s leadership on a regular basis and after noteworthy incidents. They would talk about policy changes and discipline decisions that the chief had made. They could make recommendations, but he said the Civil Service Commission would retain the power to uphold discipline when an officer violates department policy.
Scott said he believes a large number of people will apply to sit on the board. “It was a high interest during the 2018 campaign season. It remains a high interest as we govern, on how the community can be more involved in building relationships and trust with the law enforcement community,” he said.
Scott mentioned that all the board members would have to undergo a specialized training before the board could function, to ensure they would be familiar with law enforcement tactics and the department’s policies.
Rizelle Aaron does not believe the citizen review board will make a difference.
“It may give the perception of trying to create a unit or a commission that will make justice fair, but it’s only the perception,” he stated. “And it’s smoke and mirrors.”
Aaron has two sides to his perspective on the issue. He previously served as the president of the Arkansas Conference of the NAACP. He was also a relative of Bradley Blackshire, who was shot and killed by former officer Charles Starks in February.
“When they decided not to prosecute him, based on all the video evidence and Starks’ statements, then it sent a clear message to the public,” Aaron said, “that police officers won’t be held accountable.”
He believes a citizen review board could be the answer if it had subpoena power and the authority to punish officers found to have violated policies.
LRPD conducts its own investigations of its officers, and Aaron believes personal relationships within the department lead to too many officers being cleared of wrongdoing.
“When you have a citizen review board that does not have enforcement authority, then it just adds another layer of time and energy that is really a waste of time and energy,” he said.
But Aaron added that he still supports the idea of the review board as Scott proposes it, hoping that the board’s powers can be amended after it is created.
“It is extremely important,” he said, “that there is a non-biased, objective group that is overseeing or looking into matters or complaints against the Little Rock Police Department and its officers.”
Scott said he hopes the Board of Directors will discuss his ordinance during its agenda meeting on July 16 and vote for it the following week. If they approve it, the review board’s members could be in place by the end of the summer.
Scott invited community members Wednesday to a public safety summit on Wednesday, July 16. It will take place from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. at the Centre at University Park.
Chief Humphrey will discuss crime trends in Little Rock, and federal law enforcement agencies will discuss ways in which they can better partner with the police department.
Scott said he wants the cooperation after the Power Ultra Lounge shooting in 2017 to be the model for the future.
“And so, what we want to do now with the new police chief in Chief Keith Humphrey, and myself being a new mayor, I wanted to bring together our county, federal, and state partners together again to figure out, okay, this is what happened in the past. Here we are today, in the present. How do we move forward together,” he said, “to be proactive on how we secure our neighborhoods?”
Another part of his Public Safety Month plan is a meeting geared toward the city’s Spanish-speaking residents. Mexican Consul Rodolfo Quilantan-Arenas will join Humphrey at Mosaic Church from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 20. Scott said translators would be available, as well.
“As we know, we have a growing Latinx community here in the city of Little Rock,” he explained. “We want to make certain that they are heard and listened to within the leadership of the City of Little Rock.
“I think the Latinx community has the same concerns as any other community within the city of Little Rock, and that’s public safety. They must understand that public safety is priority number one at City Hall, and we want to continue to focus, and learn, and listen, and improve on how we can improve public safety to secure all neighborhoods.”
Scott also provided updates for two other initiatives he promised to improve the police department. He said the city has applied for a federal grant that would help pay for a body-worn camera system for all the department’s patrol officers.
He also said he plans to set aside money in the city’s 2020 budget for both body cameras and additional officers. He still hopes to increase the size of the department by up to 100 officers in the next four years.