The last few months have proved to be volatile for the Little Rock Police Department (LRPD), following the retirement and resignation of two consecutive police chiefs. As violent crime and public safety come to the forefront of Little Rockers’ minds, mayoral candidates have emphasized the public safety debate as an election issue.
Keith Humphrey’s tenure as police chief was one marked by lawsuits and scandal. Within a year of becoming Little Rock’s 38th chief of police in April 2019, the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police overwhelmingly voted that they had no confidence in Humphrey, a resolution passed by nearly 84%. The former police chief had two investigations still open against him when he announced his retirement in May 2022.
Last September, a Little Rock human resources investigator accused Humphrey of targeting and harassing officers, as well as racial discrimination and retaliation. A second lawsuit was filed against Humphrey within 24 hours. Women who worked with Humphrey would begin to come forward with sexual harassment allegations against him. Humphrey replied by filing a civil rights lawsuit against more than 20 people, as well as the Fraternal Order of Police. Humphrey’s case was dismissed by a federal judge. Within his first two years of taking over the department, Humphrey had faced lawsuits from 12 police officers, two assistant chiefs who had applied for his job, as well as a plethora of human resources complaints. Loretta Cochran, the external investigator who looked into Humphrey’s performance, resigned the day after Mayor Scott announced that Humphrey would face no disciplinary action. Scott took the unusual step of releasing the statement regarding Humphrey’s fate in conjunction with questioning the legitimacy of Cochran’s report.
Just four months later, on New Year’s Eve 2021, Humphrey was involved in a shooting with an armed suspect outside of a gas station on Asher Avenue. After he retired, prosecutors determined that the shooting was justified.
This incident came at a time of increased violent crime across the city. In early 2022, reports indicated that violent crime in Little Rock had increased 17% compared to the first quarter of 2021. Trends show that this isn’t just a one-off statistical occurrence, either: Crime has steadily risen in the city since 2014.
Two months after this report was released, Humphrey retired.
The rise in violent crime across Little Rock and the upheaval of the Little Rock Police Department have certainly caught the eye of the Mayor’s office. Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. released the following statement after Humphrey’s retirement:
“Violent crime has increased in cities across the country in the past months, and I appreciate Chief Humphrey as an effective, innovative leader who has worked hard to develop community relationships and reduce crime in Little Rock,” Scott said. “Our next police chief will be expected to build on those efforts, while recognizing the immediate need to make our streets safer for residents. At the same time, the new chief will be an integral part of our holistic and collaborative approach to reducing violence.”
Three weeks after taking over as interim police chief, Crystal Young-Haskins resigned from the position after serving the City of Little Rock for over 16 years. As of June 18, 2022, Assistant Chief Wayne Bewley has served as the interim police chief.
The revolving door of LRPD police chiefs has hindered city efforts to mitigate violent crime and gun violence.
When the city council looked for ways to predict and mitigate gun crime through the use of ShotSpotter software last year, dissenting council members were puzzled at the absence of the LRPD’s expert input at city hall meetings discussing the topics. When asked for records showing whether this gun crime prevention software was successful, the LRPD responded that they didn’t track that data.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. declared a state of emergency for gun violence in Little Rock earlier this year. But after the state of emergency expired, city leaders made no effort to extend it. Since then, the city has scheduled weekly public safety updates and launched new programs approved by the Little Rock Board of Directors, offering contracts to 11 different agencies that submitted proposals to help the city’s efforts to curb violent crime.
As of June 9, Little Rock has seen 37 homicides. 25 of those cases have led to arrests, with 10 remaining unsolved. As of July 18, weekly reports from the Little Rock Police Department indicated that while overall violent crime – such as forcible rapes and aggravated assaults – was down by 4%, the number of homicides had increased by 19%, and robberies by 44%.
In an interview with “Good Morning America”’s George Stephanopoulos in mid-July, Scott shared that “we have to address the guns,” and joined the group “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” just days after.
The rise in crime hasn’t just caught the eye of the Mayor’s office, but his opponent’s eye as well. And as the city looks for a new police chief, the people might choose a new mayor, too.
Scott’s most formidable opponent in the mayoral race is Steve Landers, a philanthropist and the owner of the largest auto group in Arkansas. In March 2022, the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Landers for mayor.
In a damning statement against Mayor Scott, the Fraternal Order of Police stated the following:
“The duty of police officers is not only to protect, but to also serve the citizens of Little Rock. Officers take their sworn oath and missions very seriously. We have not seen a commitment to either from the current administration. This current administration has misled the citizens of Little Rock regarding critical issues that affect the safety of this city. The number of officers has declined during the tenure of this administration, while simultaneously the violent crime has risen by double digit percentages. The programs being touted as solutions to the ever increasing violent crime are programs that have existed all along and have not been utilized. Becoming concerned with violent crime, and crime in general, during an election year is too little, too late. Protecting and serving the citizens of Little Rock requires having enough officers to respond to calls for service. Protecting and serving requires leadership that sets high standards, ensures officers are properly equipped, supports their officers, and holds officers accountable, regardless of ideology. The current administration has portrayed that policing in Little Rock needs to be ‘fixed’ while at the same time stating they ‘appreciate’ them.”
Landers acknowledged the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police in an official statement.
“I want to thank the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police for its endorsement,” Landers said. “It is vital to have local law enforcement support me and our mission. I have spoken with many of Little Rock’s finest, and we all agree that things need to change. My goals for 2023 are to fill every vacant police position, increase department morale, increase community policing and deploy our resources most efficiently by utilizing data-driven policing.”
Shortly after, Landers connected finances to the curbing of violent crime.
“As Little Rock mayor, I am going to propose funding to LRPD to fight the crime that has ravaged our city. I want every police vacancy filled. I will never hire private security detail to protect myself as our current mayor does. Tax monies need to support law enforcement and the security of its citizens and not the personal security of the mayor.”
Meanwhile, Scott has emphasized his own holistic approach to solving crime in Little Rock.
“We have to invest in the people of Little Rock. And most importantly, we have to invest in our youth and young adults. We want to ensure that we save a generation of young people,” said Scott. “We understand that this has to involve more than just law enforcement officers. It has to be a holistic approach. It has to be focusing on communities.”
The new programs Scott has proposed include a day laborer program to provide productive economic opportunities to individuals most at risk for perpetrating criminal activity. Also included are conflict resolution programs, martial arts after-school programs, art-based approach efforts, mentorship programs, mental health intervention and hospital-based intervention at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
The city of Little Rock will hold a general election for mayor on Nov. 8, 2022. The nationwide search for a new Little Rock police chief continues as of this article’s publication.