Little Rock's Police Chief is reaching his second anniversary on the job.
With crime rates at their lowest in decades and use of force incidents dropping in the city, Kenton Buckner explains his views on policing, race, use of force, and his goals for Little Rock.
Chief Kenton Buckner: I believe that technology has caught up with some of our misdeeds; technology has exposed some of the corruption in law enforcement. You know, there are folks, citizens, or even chiefs… people in this profession who are acting as if some of the acts that we have recently been exposed to are new. We must be reminded that Rodney King occurred in 1993. Black and brown communities have been complaining about this treatment for decades… the iPhone and iPads have just caught up with these complaints. So I think that first we have to walk to the podium and accept responsibility for some of the harm that we’ve caused our communities.
I think the community also needs to be mindful of the vast majority of our police officers are professional and do a great job, but then chiefs have to be willing to say that there is probably a small percentage of our agencies who should not be wearing our badge and uniform.
I think technology, with the on-body cameras, is something that I believe that will drastically change our profession—you immediately have somewhat of an independent witness that will be able to give an account for what has happened. While it is not a perfect tool, I think it will be an effective tool, but we also must be mindful that it not—it does not always capture everything, so it—so it’s certainly not a penicillin pill for the problems that we have.
KUAR's Sarah Whites-Koditschek: In our last conversation you spoke about historic scars in Little Rock from police-involved shootings, especially those involving members of minority communities. Recently, the department settled a lawsuit brought by the sons of former officer Eugene Ellison, an elderly black man shot by a white—two white off-duty police officers in his home. Do you think that the resolution of this case is an example of the department and community coming to terms over a historic scar?
Chief Buckner: Well, I think that it’s… It’s an example of how a critical incident can divide our community. Policing is a very difficult profession, and that is increasing by the day. The level of scrutiny that we’re under makes it very, very challenging, but I think that we certainly have to admit when there are opportunities for improvement. It’s no secret that much of the crime in our communities, specifically violent crime, is in concentrated areas that are occupied by minorities. That incident that occurred in 2010 certainly was divisive to our community and our police department. So to be able to effectively bring that to a resolution to where everyone felt that they were shown dignity and respect is certainly a step in the right direction to healing our community.
Whites-Koditschek: So I think in the—in our last conversation, we talked about stop-and-frisk policies, and you were concerned about that mass approach to policing. Is that something that the department aggressively pursues, or considers pursuing, as an approach?
Chief Buckner: In my opinion, stop-and-frisk-type initiatives are counter-productive as it relates to community and police relationships, and they offer a very fragile, hollow, short-term success for dealing with crime. You go into a community and you have these stop-and-frisk initiatives, and you have these high number of citations or stops that you have, but the fact of the matter is that you’re alienating 95 percent of the community in your attempts to pursue that five percent.
Whites-Koditschek: And I know you’ve repeatedly told community members you want more accountability from them—I’ve heard you say that in different meetings and forums—what does that mean to you, and when do you think it’s appropriate to ask for that?
Chief Buckner: There are what I would call a common denominator of socio-economical factors that are ingredients, or kind of the genesis of crime-infested communities: poverty, low academic achievement, minimal to no parental involvement in education, single parent homes, substance abuse, mental illness, all of those things become a cocktail for destruction in a community. You cannot expect the police to fix those things. Public safety is what we do, public safety is what we’re resourced for, public safety is why we were designed, and these social issues that plague these communities, there are many other folks that will have to be at the table to be able to address some of those things to have sustained success.
Public safety is not a spectator sport, the police are not going to change your community; change comes from the people. New facilities that we’re building all over the community, that’s not going to change the community; change comes from the people. If you as a parent don’t think that it’s—that anything is wrong with your fourteen-year-old kid being out at two o’clock in the morning, then there’s nothing that the police is going to be able to do to save that child. If you don’t think it’s important to go to your child’s parent-teacher conference, there’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of that child. So the people are going to have to get engaged in what’s going on in the community, take a very intimate role in public safety, specifically in their homes first, where I believe many of these things start. And when we do that, I think you’re less likely to need enforcement, and then we can begin to build bridges to these common destinations that we all aspire to have.
Whites-Kodicheck: Chief Buckner, thanks so much for coming, and we really appreciate it.
Chief Buckner: Thank you.