Group: No LR reply yet on audit

Group: No LR reply yet on audit

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Little Rock citizens who asked the city to hire an independent monitor to oversee implementation of recommendations from an audit of the city’s police have gotten no reply from the mayor or board of directors, and the city’s 2022 budget does not provide money for such a measure.

Members from the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods, a group that has advocated for changes in policing and transparency in the city since 1990, made the request to Mayor Frank Scott and the board Nov. 20, but have heard nothing in reply and have not had success trying to work directly with one city director, said Kathy Wells, the group’s president.

Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey on Nov. 2 named nine officers from his force to review the 80 suggestions made in the audit, which was completed by CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization located in Arlington, Va.

The report’s final recommendation is that the city and police should hire an independent firm to track the progress of enacting the other suggestions.

Wells thinks the police task force, made up of insiders, cannot be relied on to make changes to their own department without bias, she said.

“They’re lacking in credibility,” she said, and hiring an independent firm to work with them would increase trust in the process.

“There’s some question about how seriously people are going to change [the system] they’re already living in,” Wells added.

Stephanie Jackson, Scott’s spokeswoman, did not reply to multiple phone calls requesting comment for this article.

Wells approached Ward 1 City Director Virgil Miller about the recommendation, hoping he could advocate for the Coalition and push to allocate money from the 2022 city budget for the task before it was approved Tuesday night.

When CNA presented their findings in October, Miller said he asked the mayor and his fellow board members about the possibility of hiring a firm to monitor progress. Miller had just taken his role on the board that month.

“It was not really responded to,” he said, and acknowledged that in the months after he did not follow up on the request.

Miller wants to give Scott and Humphrey the chance to tackle implementation first, and “if they don’t implement a lot of the recommendations” then the board can ask for an independent monitor to follow up after the fact, he said.

The budget can be amended next year as needed to pay for the monitoring firm, Miller said, and these sorts of tweaks to the budget are not unusual.

“There has to be a chance to implement the recommendations,” Miller said, although he could not say how many of the recommendations he would expect the police task force to implement.

In fact, Miller said he was “a little unclear” on which recommendations the police panel plans to implement.

The nine-member police task force includes representatives from both police unions — the Fraternal Order of Police and the Black Police Officer’s Association — as well as three community officers. It is led by Maj. Heath Helton, head of the Records and Support Division.

One member of the task force, Lt. Michael Ford, was placed on administrative leave Dec. 3 after he was arrested by Arkansas State Police on charges of driving while intoxicated.

Humphrey did not give a timeline for when the task force would complete their work, but at the news conference where he named the group, he called the audit “a really good thing for our department.”

To Wells, about the only positive thing about the task force is that it is “really really valuable” that the department included both unions, she said, which are often at odds.

Wells was encouraged that the CNA audit emphasized some of the same areas her group had called attention to for years.

One of the Coalition’s main concerns is transparency in the department’s handling of complaints against officers, Wells said.

If an officer is not suspended or fired, the details of the complaint are not made public, or even available through the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

This was the case even for Humphrey when Scott declined to discipline the chief based on the findings of a human-resources investigation undertaken by Arkansas Tech University official Loretta Cochran last year. The outcome all but ensured that Cochran’s findings will not be made public.

“There’s never any reporting on complaints,” Wells said. “You may be told the outcome of your complaint, but there’s never any recording anywhere else, certainly not on the public record.”

Another concern listed in the audit was the department’s handling of secure information, which Wells said she was impressed by.

Wells thinks many people are reluctant to make a police report because they don’t trust the city’s officers to keep their names secret and protect them from retaliation, she said.

To underscore the concern on this topic, Little Rock Police announced Nov. 23 that they had arrested one of their officers, Miles McWayne, for improperly viewing a citizen’s personal information in May 2021. The investigation into McWayne began after that citizen reported the abuse in August.

Though skeptical of the task force’s dedication to reform, Wells hopes that the introduction of independent monitors can help the process improve the department’s operations.

“If we have nine people on the implementation committee today, we need to add another nine” who are independent, Wells said.

Wells is accustomed to her Coalition’s requests being ignored by the city’s elected officials, including previous mayors. But they intend to continue pushing for the reform they want to see.

“I look forward to continuing to seek to persuade the mayor and the board,” Wells said.

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