- Brian Chilson
- CHIEF BUCKNER: In response to calls to require LRPD officers to live in Little Rock so they would be part of the community, he says they have a right to live where they choose.
Since Little Rock Police Department Chief Kenton Buckner took the reins of the LRPD from outgoing Chief Stuart Thomas in June 2014, Arkansas Times has made it a point to check in with him for periodic chats about law enforcement, crime trends, challenges facing the LRPD and the road ahead. What follows is an excerpt of a long conversation with Buckner conducted in mid-August, with topics including the shooting of police officers in Dallas, whether the decision to kill Dallas cop-killer Micah Johnson with a robot carrying a bomb respected the rule of law, his thoughts on residency requirements for LRPD officers and why many of his officers choose to live outside the city, community policing, mass incarceration, juvenile justice, assault rifles and gun control, and the $900,000 settlement the city of Little Rock paid in the 2010 police shooting of Eugene Ellison, who was killed in his apartment after an altercation with two off-duty cops.
Here's a previous Q&A with Buckner from the summer of 2015.
Officers fired for lying:
We've heard through the grapevine that you have fired several officers — the number we heard is 17 — particularly for lying. Is this true?
There have been a number of people who have been terminated for untruthfulness. There are folks who have resigned, retired as a result of that. Some of the cases, because final disposition was — they did something prior to final disposition of that, it's not disclosable under FOI because it stays as a personnel matter. But there are a number of people who have been fired for untruthfulness.
Is lying a particular bugaboo of yours? I think it is for the profession. When you look at agencies across the country, particularly when the Brady law [the U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland] has been in effect for a very long time, but it began to be an issue when prosecutors basically said that they could not put [law enforcement officers] who had an untruthfulness in their background, they didn't want them on major cases where they're likely to testify on a felony case, particularly in circuit court or at trial, and certainly in federal court. They don't want that at all. We know that's a problem and is an issue across the country. Agencies that are aware of that and are practicing that, pretty much the standard is, if you have a sustained untruthfulness against you as a result of an investigation, then the result is termination. [Editor's note: In the Brady case, the Supreme Court held that the withholding of evidence by a prosecutor violates due process "where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment." As one consequence, prosecutors are required to notify a defendant if a law enforcement official involved in his case has a confirmed record of lying in an official capacity.]
I wanted to talk to you in particular about community policing. It's something you've been big on in the past. Community engagement. At your July press conference in particular, you talked about a "Dallas moment" and how important it is to have existing relationships in order to be able to reach out at 3 a.m. and have somebody answer your phone call. Can you talk about community policing a bit and your ongoing efforts?
Community policing, for us by definition, is policing the community and engaging in problem-solving in our community. It's a sport where you cannot have spectators. We must work together. There needs to be mutually beneficial [action] in the partnership. By that I mean, if we have individuals, whether that would be a boys and girls club who are doing events in the summer with at-risk youth, or we have the school system, or we have the business community, or we have someone from a nonprofit, they need to also feel like their relationship with the police department is beneficial. So we try to work together on issues that are important to them, and in turn we ask them to work on areas that are beneficial to us. Some of the areas where you specifically see us engaging in community policing — because I think you have to have tangible examples of it. If not, then you're talking basically about buzzwords and catch phrases. We have four or five youth initiatives. There's the [Our Kids] Program [a law-enforcement mentoring program for African-American males], there's the GEMS program — Girls Empowerment Mentoring Sisterhood — based on the O.K. Program principles of mentoring, but it's for females. Then we have a crisis response group; it's roughly 25 to 30 folks that are part of a group of individuals that, in the event that we had some kind of mass situation or critical incident occurring in our city, these individuals who are stakeholders in our community have said that they will try to step up and try to call for calm in our community, to ask the community to respect due process rather than having some kind of illegal protest or something to where we are damaging property or, in the extreme case, doing some kind of violent behavior. Those are just some of the examples. Another thing we just recently started is a foundation for the police department. Many of the initiatives through the foundation will be through kids, training, and also equipment for the police to further other outreach, other things that are going on in the city. One of the other initiatives is the Youth Live-In Camp. We do that every summer. This year, there were 80 kids that went out to the 4H camp in Ferndale — 80 kids out there we had who did well in school and deserved to do something in the summer, and the police department saw it as an opportunity to have constructive relationships with them, rather than just them seeing us as enforcers all the time.
Is there a danger of being seen as an enforcer — an occupying army?
I think there is a danger in being solely as an enforcer. I think intelligent people understand that at times, an enforcer is necessary. No one wants to see an officer with a gun or a riot helmet on, or us pulling up in military-style vehicles. No one wants to see that. But we also understand there are certain circumstances and situations going on in our country that call for that. My job is to ensure that we're balanced — to make sure that if we have to use force, that the force is reasonable and necessary. My job is also to ensure that we do the kind of de-escalation things to try to prevent ourselves from getting in that kind of situation. We'd much rather use our brain and our mouth than we would our handcuffs and our gun, but we're prepared to use the handcuffs. We're prepared to use the gun. But when we do so, we want to make sure it's under the right circumstances and that we're within the law when we're doing that.
Somebody told us that you've been big about getting Facebook likes on the LRPD Facebook page. Is social media a part of that puzzle of community policing?
Sure it is, because whoever told you that thought it was important enough for you to know that. It's certainly important to us. We feel like social media is a viable means for us to get out our message. We're no longer 100 percent dependent on the media to tell the story for the Little Rock Police Department. We want to connect with people via social media. Many people, particularly young folks, use social media as their communication avenue, and we want to make sure we're putting things out through those avenues so people can see what's going on in their community, people can see what's going on with their police department, people can see things that they can engage with, whether it's some kind of initiative [such as] when we did the [KTHV, Channel 11] cereal drive [for the Arkansas Foodbank]. We put things out there like that. When you can reach almost 15,000 people on Facebook, and they in turn turn around and send it to other folks they know, now we're beginning to spread the word other than, maybe, just seeing me in a news conference or something that's in the paper. We can do that at our leisure, rather than just waiting on someone to come here and do the story when they think it's good for them.
Are you still a no on establishing citizen review and complaint boards with regard to police use of force?
I think we have a citizen review of use of force. We have a Civil Service Commission that has the ability to [overturn] decisions I make as it relates to discipline for our officers and also cases that are investigated by internal affairs. Individuals who are calling for quote-unquote "civilian review," if they were to educate themselves on the abilities of the Civil Service Commission and what authority they have, you would see that probably 85 to 90 percent of the things you would want a civilian review board to have, it already exists in the Civil Service Commission. So I am in support of an avenue to take a look at a decision I've made, make sure I've done right by the individuals who were involved, that due process has been given to everyone involved, and that I've done the right thing by our general orders, our policies, our procedures, and within the law. Our Civil Service Commission does that. If you make a complaint today with the internal affairs on an officer, and I clear the officer of wrongdoing as unfounded, you have a right to take that to the Civil Service Commission, and they can actually overturn my decision. You can make your case before them. I would present my side of the case, and then the commission actually makes the final decision as to whether that case will be overturned or they will uphold that decision. So the things that they were calling for, I think that avenue already exists.
Residency requirements have come up again, of course. Are you a supporter of residency requirements for police officers in the city of Little Rock?
I'm a supporter of residency incentives. I'm not in favor of residential requirements. As a police chief, I do not think that I should have the right to tell a man or a woman where to raise their family. I do not think I should have that right. The common reasons given for the officers choosing to live in other parts of Central Arkansas are the cost of living in Little Rock, when you look at what a house would cost them in a comparable nice community of Little Rock vs. in Maumelle or in one of these other communities, there's a significant difference. That affects your quality of life. There are many officers that don't have a lot of faith in the public school system in Little Rock. The other part of it is that maybe they feel like the crime [rate] is too high in Little Rock, and they don't want to live here. But that's their choice, and they have a right to do that. And this notion that you don't care about Little Rock because you don't live here? Then why are you risking your life in Little Rock if you don't care about Little Rock?
There are many other occupations that someone could have other than law enforcement, but they choose to do law enforcement. To say that "because you don't live in Little Rock" to imply that they don't care about the city, I think, is just false and it supports a narrative that someone is trying to have for the residency requirement. I do see some pros to having a residency incentive. I think that, as a police officer, I truly believe that, yes, you are less likely to mistreat someone if you live next door to them. You're less likely to do something unprofessional if you know that neighbor because you live in that particular area. I think you're more likely to have a stronger, more trusting relationship if you're familiar with one another. So I think that there are certainly some benefits to having an officer live in our city, but I would rather see something like a car given to an officer living in the city, some kind of pay incentive to maybe help with closing costs or something with a home, or some kind of financing incentives or something to purchase a home, and then give them the decision as to whether or not they choose to live here or not. But to require them to live in Little Rock? I would just not be in favor of that.
Just now and in your comments previously, the Little Rock School District has come up as one of the reasons why you say officers might not want to live in Little Rock. Some people, including [Arkansas Times Senior Editor] Max Brantley, have accused you of kind of throwing the Little Rock School District under the bus with all that. Is that a fair criticism? Are you putting too much blame on the Little Rock School District?
So I want to make sure I understand your question correctly. Are you asking me, do I feel as if I'm throwing the Little Rock school system under the bus by publicly saying that my officers list that as one of the reasons my officers give that they choose not to live in the city? I think I'm telling the truth. That's one of the reasons they give. It is what it is. Do you want me to make up another reason?
No, don't make up another reason.
Exactly! If they're saying that's one of the primary reasons they choose not to live in the city, what the hell am I supposed to say? How do you think it makes me feel when people say, "I don't want to live in Little Rock, because the crime is too high?" Is that throwing me under the bus? It's the damn truth! We have problems with crime. So would I be thrown under the bus if someone said that? No! Sometimes the truth is painful. That doesn't make it bad. That doesn't make it a bad thing.
We know we have challenges with our school system. We know we have problems with crime. So anyone who would say, "You're throwing the school system under the bus," I challenge them to give me an intelligent example of where I've thrown them under the bus. They're dealing with the same challenging circumstances and dynamics that I have to deal with in the city as it relates to crime. I would love for your editor to give me an example of how I've thrown them under the bus. I'd love to hear that.
Well, you know, there are 528 officers in the Little Rock Police Department. If there were 528 officers scattered around the city of Little Rock, living in Little Rock, wouldn't that help out the crime rate in Little Rock, and make people feel more comfortable about crime in Little Rock?
Do I think it could have an impact if all of our officers lived in the city? Possibly. Do I think that would be a silver bullet to address the crimes we have in our city? No. No. The underlying issues that are driving the crime in our city are poverty, low academic achievement, single-parent homes, absentee fathers, substance abuse, mental illness, high unemployment. Now, you tell me, of those things that I just gave you, an officer living in Little Rock, how would it impact that?
If there were less crime, maybe there would be more people willing to live in the city of Little Rock.
No, no. How would an officer living in Little Rock impact that socioeconomic cocktail that I just gave you? OK, now I live in Little Rock! Substance abuse is going to go away? I now live in Little Rock. Unemployment for black and brown communities is going to [go away]? Now you know that's not going to happen. The problem is, we keep looking for penicillin pills. It doesn't exist. Only heavy lifting is left. People are going to have to make some strong decisions about how they conduct themselves, how they go about living their lives, how they view education, choosing not to do drugs, choosing to have kids in wedlock, fathers choosing to have an active role with their kids. None of that has anything to do with a police officer living in the city.
I needed to piss you off in the last interview.
I'm never pissed off! I'm just giving you the real stuff!
The real stuff. This is good. This is less canned than our other interviews.
Oh, I'm never canned! I'm never canned! You're always fair and balanced, so I'll know you'll present that right.
I don't want the Fox News [slogan] there, but I try to be. An Arkansas Democrat-Gazette study into your officers found that of 160 black officers on the force, 99 of those, or 62 percent, live in the city of Little Rock. Of 354 white officers, only 75, or 21 percent, live in the city of Little Rock. Why is there a difference there?
To ask me why white officers, a higher percentage, live outside the city vs. why a lower percentage of African-Americans choose to leave the city? I wouldn't be able to give you a definitive answer on that. I think that's going to be different for every household and every officer that chose to do so. The rock that you'll have thrown to you is, "Well, this is a part of white flight!" Again, when Chief David Brown talked in Dallas, [he] said, "You're putting too many things on police." So now, we want the police department, the police chief, to stop white flight. Look how many things you're asking me to do. I'm a very confident individual. I can do a lot of things. Come on. You expect me to do that? You can't stop it. I wouldn't even call it white flight, because there are a number of African-American officers that live outside the city. As to why the percentage is higher with white officers vs. black officers, you'd have to ask each one of those families why they chose to live outside the city.
Can officers who live in Cabot or Benton, who have very little contact with communities of color in their recreational life, effectively deal with communities of color in their professional life?
That's a great question. I think that they can. Do I think that there are some instances to where if you've grown up in a community where black and brown was not around you, will you misinterpret something? Very much so. As an African American who understands our culture, as you can see, I'm an animated person. I'm also loud, to where if me and another brother are standing somewhere and we're talking, we're just chewing the fat, but we may be loud and animated in doing so. Someone may perceive that as threatening, or [get the idea] that you're going to do something to me. You may overreact or underreact given the circumstances, because you're uncomfortable in that situation. We try to do our best to make sure our officers are ready for those moments. That they're comfortable in the areas they're working. We encourage you to get out of their car and engage the people. Not just the criminals that you're having to deal with, but also the citizens. They're the 90 percenters in the community. The vast majority of people in the community, they support the police. They're not trying to do something to hurt you. But it's very easy to become jaded, because when you go into an area, all you see is the negative in what we're dealing with. But there are a lot of positive things going on. If you get out of your car and engage the community, you'll see that people respect you, people appreciate what you're doing. But you have to be intentional about that. That's not going to accidentally happen. But to answer your question bluntly: Do I think that could be a challenge for an officer who has never been around black and brown people? Certainly I do. I really do think that could be a challenge. But that's why we do implicit bias training, that's why we do cultural diversity training, that's why we do de-escalation training, that's why we try to get our young people in the academy to bond to where you have black, white, Hispanic and Asians who have different backgrounds so you can see those kinds of things.
That's why we bring in outside instructors who are non-police, to talk about some of these sensitive issues with our classes, so they're aware of all the diversities of the things you're going to be expected to deal with when you hit the street. One of that is there's no secret that many of the times we're having issues in the community, it involves black and brown communities. So you very much need to get comfortable with dealing with people who don't look like you.
The officer shootings in Dallas:
I wanted to talk about Dallas. Is there a "Before Dallas" and "After Dallas" now? Has it changed the way that police departments and your police department do business?
I think so. That's another great question. Columbine was a moment for law enforcement. Pre-Columbine, we would set up a perimeter and wait for our [S.W.A.T.] folks to get there, and then we would make entry. Post-Columbine, the first three or four officers on the scene, you go in and you engage the individual who is causing the problems in there. Pre-Dallas, I think that we kind of took protesting as kind of nonchalant. You stand on your post, you do what you're supposed to do, respect the First Amendment to allow people to protest, make sure you're protecting them, make sure it's a planned event. Those kind of things. Post-Dallas, I think we have to do a better job of monitoring intelligence of any threats that may be on that event. I think you have to be able to take positions in that venue that give you kind of a 360-degree view of what's going on so that someone can't be above you or in private locations. I think we have to look at that. I think, equipment-wise, we have to wear equipment now. Several of the past [few] active shooters we've had where officers have been killed, assault rifles have been the weapon of choice. On the street, we carry a handgun, and a handgun vs. an assault rifle equals a dead police officer. So we have to be prepared to address those individuals when that threat comes. This takes me back to the question that we commonly hear: "Well, you all are militarizing yourselves! You look like an occupying force. Why are you driving that armored vehicle up to this house in a residential area?" No one has told the crooks to put down these military-style weapons. Have you ever seen what an assault rifle will do to a police car? It goes straight through it. You seen what an assault rifle does to a normal police vest? It goes straight through it.
So there's a reason [for] some of this force, like we talked earlier in our conversation, or this different equipment we have to have: Because the people who want to harm police or harm others, they're using equipment that, with the equipment we have right now, it's an unfair situation for us. So we have to kind of pivot, make decisions to kind of protect ourselves, and then move from there. But throughout all this, the one thing that we can't do is allow ourselves to distance ourselves from the community. That one individual who was responsible for the Dallas shooting, he's an individual. The vast majority of the people, Black Lives Matter folks included, who were protesting that day, were nonviolent. They were compliant, they were in almost a celebratory moment in some instances with the Dallas police. So let's not broad-brush Black Lives Matter. Let's not broad-brush protesters. Because we wouldn't want our profession broad-brushed. But we certainly have to be intelligent about how we go about doing business to make sure we're doing everything possible to protect the public and ourselves as best we possibly can.
Is there a danger of police getting that post-Dallas mindset about protesters and going into every situation as if it's going to be some kind of threat?
There is a danger of that. Of thinking that the sky is falling or potentially everyone is trying to harm you. But I think if you have a true connection with the community, you'll see that the vast majority of the community respects and appreciates you. If you look at the outpouring of support that occurred as a result of Baton Rouge, as a result of Dallas, and the things that people were bringing to our divisions, to give officers food and pastries and things, and walking up to us in public and in restaurants, in Kroger or at the dry cleaners, to say, "Thank you for what you're doing." Those are the things that you also have to put in your mental Rolodex, to say, "This is the majority." They represent the majority of the people. So don't allow yourself to take this one individual who was mentally disturbed, who had a weapon, and did some egregious things, don't allow yourself to think that represents the community. It does not. That's why it's an extreme situation. We don't see that that often. We hope that we don't continue to see those things, but as we have more media, 24-hour cycles, we have social media, we're starting to be more aware of officers who are injured or killed in the line of duty. That's been going on for years, it's just that the mechanism to get that information out [has advanced]. If you didn't live in that city or state 20 years ago, you didn't know an officer got killed in Minnesota. Today, you know it within five minutes if an officer has been killed in New York. So that's where we have to kind of stay on top of things that are going on across the country to make sure that we look at those incidents like Dallas, take a look at their after-action reports, look at our operational procedures as we go about planning and preparing for those incidents, close the gaps as much as we possibly can, stay connected to the community in doing so, and then the only other thing you can do is pray.
Gun control and an assault weapons ban:
You know, I've got a credit card in my pocket, and I could go to Academy Sports today and buy an AR-15 that will turn a vest or police car into Swiss cheese. Should I be able to do that? Do you support a ban on assault weapons for civilians?
I support the Second Amendment. I support responsible gun ownership, including a rifle, because there are a lot of responsible gun owners who have a rifle who have no intention of hurting anyone. They only want to protect themselves, or they want to go do some kind of sport shooting. Do I think that we need to have reasonable measures in place to make sure that individuals who have a mental illness don't have the opportunity to get a weapon? If we have someone on a watch list and we believe we have tangible evidence that this person is a threat to the community, they should not be able to buy a weapon. I think there are enough rules on the books currently, that if we were just able to better enforce those, we could probably close some of those gaps. But we have this kind of red and blue divided conversation about something that's not taking us anywhere. I think that in order for us to truly have a sensible, intelligent conversation about it, I think we're going to have to sit down and say, "What's best for safety for our country?" rather than taking our political stances behind these lines. But the one thing that I will tell you, when you talk pre- and post-Sandy Hook. What I learned from Sandy Hook is that Chicago and other cities like it — Milwaukee, St. Louis, Little Rock, Memphis — who have a high number of deaths every year, so we're used to seeing black and brown, particularly young people, killed. We've become numb to that. What Sandy Hook taught me is that, you had 20 kids, and I think six administrators there who were killed. They come from a wealthy, college-educated [community], Ivy League degrees, they were slaughtered in broad daylight. From that incident nothing happened. When you see something like that happen, with that demographic [but] an upper-echelon to middle-class white community was not able to move that needle as a result of that incident — that tells me, and it sounds maybe gray, but I doubt if we'll see any kind of significant legislation or movement where we feel that we've done more to protect people from that happening again. If we allowed it to happen at Sandy Hook and nothing happened? If it had been 20 black or brown kids or something like that? We're having a conversation where we're having 2,500, 3,000 shootings in Chicago. Rubber stamped. But we didn't even respond to [Sandy Hook]. Those families are still trying to get something done. And what has happened? Are you aware of anything significant that's happened since then?
Not that I know of.
When it can happen to that community, and the needle not move? I don't expect the needle to move.
I wonder myself. Orlando was 50-plus people mowed down with an assault rifle, and people went back to their lives the next day, it seemed like. I don't know what it's going to take
I don't know. That's a good question. Based upon the current back-and-forth arguments that we're seeing from the people we've elected to do something about it, I don't expect anything to get done.
Guns have been politicized to the point that it's impossible to move the needle. If you move the needle, you're a traitor to somebody. Or seen as a traitor to some constituency.
Due process in the decision to blow up the Dallas shooter:
During the Dallas shooting standoff, after Micah Johnson shot the officers, the Dallas Police Department sent in a robot with a pound of C-4 explosive attached to its arm and, without telling him apparently — without warning him with "we're sending in a bomb if you don't come out" — and blew him up after 45 minutes of negotiation. Nobody is going to shed a bitter tear over a guy who killed six cops, I don't think, but it did set off some questions about due process. This is a guy who is holed up 45 minutes after he's done this shooting, and he's not shooting anymore, and they send in the bomb.
I don't know if it's true about him not shooting anymore. I think there were some shots fired during the negotiation. [Editor's note: Buckner is correct. Dallas Police Chief David Brown said that after negotiations with Johnson broke down, there was an additional exchange of gunfire.]
Was sending in a robot with a bomb the right call? It's apparently the first time a suspect has been killed by a robot in American history.
Quote me on this: This is no longer your grandfather's America. Extreme measures require extreme responses. He forced them into a situation where they gave him an opportunity to surrender. He had shown he was capable and committed to carrying out very grave, violent behavior. So an extreme response was required. I think [Dallas Police Chief] David Brown did a great job of bringing that to an end without anyone else getting hurt.
You could say that about almost any hostage situation, though. You could say that about almost any standoff. There's always a possibility that an officer could get hurt. Are you going to start issuing hand grenades to officers?
I don't think you'll see an extreme jump to that, to say that we'll end every incident now with C-4. I think that it's safe to say that C-4 is on your tool belt now that we've seen that. I think it's safe to say that C-4 going forward is an option if you've had similar circumstances. Again, let's make sure that we shape this the right way. This is a man who ambushed a crowd, particularly police. And then, once he's cornered, and given an opportunity to give himself up, you refuse to do so.
At points you're laughing, and almost playing with the officers, showing that you have no intentions of giving up. So my question to you is, if your son is one of the people that I have at the other end of the hallway that's making sure that guy can't come out of that room, how much confidence would you have in my decision-making if I was to tell your son and seven other officers, "OK, he's not giving up. We're going to have to make entry?" What chief would send a team into a room with a man sitting, waiting for you, who has already killed six police officers? He put David Brown's back against the wall. So David had to make a tough decision. And in this business, if you can't make tough decisions, get out of the seat.
So would you have made that call in that situation?
I would have.
And due process — and believe me, I'm not cheerleading for the guy. I get it.
You're asking intelligent questions. This is something new, and all your questions are intelligent. Do I think it was excessive force? No. Do I think he was allowed due process? Yes. We attempted to de-escalate. We attempted to let you walk out of there with your hands up and face your day in court. You chose not to take that avenue. So when you didn't take due process — come out, surrender, let's go to court — now we're going to another box.
He was making an assumption, however, as a suspect, that the police in America had never before used that option, so he didn't know it was coming. Without telling him, "Hey, we're going to blow you up if you don't come out" —
To be fair, he didn't tell us he was going to shoot us at a protest.
Yeah, but do you want to lower the bar to "what a criminal does"?
I don't think that's lowering the bar. I think that's dealing with an extreme individual. Anyone who is capable of killing law enforcement officers — and bear in mind this, now. This was a protest for something that occurred in Baton Rouge. Dallas PD had nothing to do with that. So that tells you how reasonable or unreasonable this guy was. You killed people in another state for something that happened miles and miles away. So I don't think they were left with any options.
I'm torn on it as well.
It's an ugly sight. It's a shock to our conscience as a country, when you think: Have we come this far? The painful answer is, yes, we've come this far. Someone attacking people with an assault rifle is not new.
Are you going to call in an airstrike on the next hostage situation?
What was my original quote? This is not your grandfather's America.
Post Dallas recruiting:
Does Dallas change the way you recruit officers? Have you seen a spike in the number of people coming forward wanting to be officers since Dallas?
We have not seen that. I think that, from a recruitment standpoint, I don't know if it changes [things], because I think many people recognize that we have to recruit a balanced officer — someone who is compassionate, someone who is intelligent, someone who has a servant's heart, someone who understands how to navigate in areas that maybe you have not grown up in. Someone who can effectively communicate. Someone who is capable of protecting themselves and others, someone who has a strong mind, someone who has a commitment to public safety. I think that we can no longer say, "Hey, we're going to teach you these basic things and then send you out the door." There's so many things that a young person coming out of recruit school is asked to do today that we have to make sure we are balanced in how we develop them to address all of these challenges that police have on our plate. Someone made a statement to me the other day and they were talking about, we should have more compassion about young people who commit offenses, and they talked about the frontal lobe of the brain. It's not fully developed until age 25. I thought about that. I thought, "Well, look at the pressures and the decisions that we're asking our 21- and 23-year-olds to make with a split-second's notice. They have the same frontal lobe." I'd never thought about that from a law enforcement recruit standpoint. Look at what we're asking them to do. In many cases, it's the first time you've lived away from your parents. Now we put you in a life or death situation where you have the ability and authority to take someone's life and liberty. That's a lot to hand to a 21-year-old or 23-year-old. We have to do a good job of finding the right people and developing them so they're ready for those moments.
Black Lives Matter:
If someone walked in here and said, "I'm passionate about Black Lives Matter, I'm passionate about seeing some social change, and I want to sign up for the police department because I want to change it from within." Is that a valid reason to become a cop, and would you have any qualms about accepting someone who came into policing for that reason?
I would put them through the same vetting process that we put everyone through. If they met the requirements to be a police officer, we would welcome them with open arms. The value systems that we have here would be expected of that individual as it would of anyone else in their class. I intentionally try to remind myself not to broad-brush organizations like Black Lives Matter, because I've met too many people that I know are compassionate, but they are frustrated with some of the things they're seeing. Yes, they protest against police, but they respect police. They're protesting against bad police officers. I'm not going to allow myself to [turn away a person] just because someone says, hey, I support some of the initiatives or things of [Black Lives Matter], because we probably have some officers who are currently within our ranks who support some of those things, who are doing the job effectively every day. Would it raise a brow for me to where I'm kind of going to maybe look at this person a little tighter? Of course. Because there are some things that you want to make sure that characterize a person who is coming here for the right reason and not coming here for some kind of ulterior motive. I think if they pass the process like everyone else, they should have an opportunity to serve.
On the Eugene Ellison settlement:
Back in May the city agreed to pay $900,000 to settle the lawsuit about the shooting of Eugene Ellison in 2010. Nine-hundred-thousand dollars is, of course, a lot of money. Was that settlement something of a wake-up call to the Little Rock Police Department with regard to use of force?
I think that the Little Rock Police Department already understood the gravity of use of force, particularly deadly force. I don't think that incident was a "wake-up call." I will give you that it was very divisive for both our community and our police department. There's no secret about that. I think that in some instances, depending on how you felt about the situation, in many instances, that fell along white, black and brown, how they viewed the incident, both inside and outside the agency. I think the city did the right thing in settling that case. I think it was best for our community as a whole to move forward from that moment. It was a cloud that I think we needed to rid ourselves of to move forward, and try to build a stronger, connected community.
Is that something that's going to be mentioned to recruits in the future? "Don't be the $900,000 or Million-Dollar Cop"?
No, I don't think you talk to recruits about that. You talk to recruits about doing the right thing. The $900,000 stuff will take care of itself, provided you do the right thing. I don't want our officers, whether you are a rookie officer or a 25-year officer, to think that everything you do, you're going to put yourself in a $900,000 situation. We deal with tough decisions every day that don't result in anyone being killed, but we don't track that. There's no statistic for what we were able to de-escalate. If you walk out of your house after a domestic [assault] between you and your wife, and you had a knife, and you walked out of the home and we were able to get you to drop the knife, no one ever knows about that. We do that every day, several times a day. So this notion that we're just out here shooting people, it's a false assumption. There's so many instances where we pull our guns and don't use them, because we're able to effectively communicate with someone and they end up doing what we ask them to do — compliance — and it doesn't result in deadly force being used on them. I think we do a great job on that.
You emphasized the word "compliance" there. Is there a compliance problem in America?
It's one of the common denominators, even for the wrongful deaths. I'm a person that believes that there are not enough chiefs who are willing to publicly admit and say, from the podium, "Hey, some of these shootings are flat- out wrong. That young man that was killed, that young woman who was shot, that officer's judgment was poor, and they need to be held accountable for that." But even in those instances, the common denominator is noncompliance. But, to our critics, the gentleman lying on the ground in Florida with the autistic student or patient of his, completely proned out, [saying] "Sir, don't shoot him, don't shoot me, this is my person and I'm trying to get him back to the facility, my name is Suchandsuch, you can call them and verify that," BAM! What do you say to the public after that? I tell you what you say: You tell them that this officer is in trouble. That's what you tell them: "We made a mistake right there, and this officer is going to be held accountable for that." To some folks who are mistrusting of us, we just made a deposit into that account. You say, "Chief, you tell us to comply? Well, he complied and he still got shot!" Gentleman in Minnesota, [saying] "Officer, I have carry and conceal, I have a weapon on me." He still got shot! So when you mess up, 'fess up, then clean up. We're not doing a good job of that as a profession.
Legislative criminal justice task force, mass incarceration, juveniles, etc.:
You serve on the Legislative Criminal Justice Task Force. For months, you've been hearing about problems with our criminal justice system. What's stood out to you from those discussions?
Great question. I think that too often, we are treating drug addiction and mental illness with incarceration without addressing the root cause of the problem that resulted in them committing in many instances these minor offenses. And now they're taking up our jail and prison space. That struck me as one of the major problems with the system.
And how do we address that? Is it a money issue?
Everything is about money. But I think we have to have an infrastructure to send an individual with a mental illness to get treatment. I think that you have to give someone who has a substance-abuse issue an opportunity to get clean. That infrastructure needs to be something that's productive, and you can see it working, but it also needs to have an accountability — both the carrot and the stick, in that if you don't do what you're supposed to in this program, then you get the stick. By no means are we talking about hug-a-thug, or letting everyone off from some of these crimes they're committing, but we have to address the root cause of some of the issues those individuals are having. Now, if you commit a violent offense, or some kind of serious felony or domestic [assault] or something, I think you have to go through Door A, which is the traditional criminal justice door. Those individuals should not be subject to those side-door exits.
Do we have a mass-incarceration problem in this state?
I don't know if I'd say we have a mass-incarceration problem. I think I would say that, solution-wise, we're not adequately addressing the problems of the individuals who are in the criminal justice system. Even when we remove the drug addicts and mentally ill folks out of the jails and prison, trust me, they're still going to be full of the violent offenders. To that end, I don't think we have a mass-incarceration problem.
Arkansas has gotten some negative attention recently over how often we confine juveniles. The numbers in Arkansas have risen significantly even though the national trend is down on incarcerating juveniles who commit nonviolent offenses. How do you think we should handle delinquency?
As often as we can, I think we need to do intervention and prevention as it relates to juveniles. To contact them as soon as we possibly can when you see they're headed down that path. I think you have to do that at the earliest age. Some of these young folks are exposed to environments — you certainly don't want them to turn out the way they're doing, but you certainly understand it when you consider what they're up against every day and some of the things that are going on in their community and in the environment where they live. But we also have to be honest with ourselves, to know that we see every day or every other day on the news, young people who are jumping over counters at a hotel or at a pharmacy, robbing the place: In many instances, these are 14- or 15-year-old kids with handguns to the head of a clerk. Some of these kids need to be locked away, because they're doing egregious things while they are young. These are very, very violent behaviors that we're seeing from them. But I do think the same thing with the mental illness and the substance abuse. I think you have to have some effort where you're doing intervention with those kids and trying to do alternative sentencing or solutions with them rather than putting them in the pipeline, basically on a stairstep to prison.