Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner lead his fellow police chiefs from around the state through an hourlong "uncomfortable conversation" Tuesday on topics ranging from immigration, officer-involved shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Addressing the annual gathering of the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police at Hot Springs Convention Center, Buckner, who has been chief of the LRPD since June 2014, said, "I wanted to have a conversation with you rather than make a speech. Discuss how we view the principles of what we do in our profession," noting the convention's theme this year is "Honoring the past, embracing the present, finding the future."
"Public safety is a marathon with no finish line," he said. "We are simply carrying the baton for our leg of the race and you hope at the end of your tenure your organization is in better shape than you found it."
He asked about the role of police in immigration, noting that many feel "it's a federal responsibility" and don't want to harm their relationship with the Hispanic community while others may feel people who are in the country illegally are "sucking up social services and should get the heck out of here. What's our position?"
One police chief responded that "we shouldn't have a position per se" and should remain neutral. "We are going to enforce the law and if you are a victim we are going to help you the same as anyone else. If you don't have a driver's license, we'll issue a citation and let you go," he said.
Hot Springs Assistant Police Chief Chris Chapmond said immigration enforcement is a "double-edged sword. We're obligated to enforce the laws but we also live in a world where community policing is at the forefront of our profession and you take the chance of alienating an entire portion of your community. Especially here in Hot Springs where the Hispanic community is growing by leaps and bounds. We need them to be successful in our policing programs."
Buckner said he spent five weeks living with a Mexican family and asked one woman what her thoughts were about how the U.S. views Mexico as far as the problems caused by all the drugs coming from there. He said she answered, "'How do you think Mexicans feel about the U.S. because of their demand for drugs and what it's doing to our country?' That shut me up," he said. "I thought, you got me there."
On the subject of Black Lives Matter, Bruckner said, "When our profession hears that, it does something. Officers get upset. That's the sentiment I've gained. That all lives matter. Cop lives matter. Why do we have to separate it out?"
One police chief said, "I feel it cuts the rest of us out. I feel offended in a way."
Buckner said BLM representatives have told him "they never meant to be anti-anyone. It was meant to illuminate something." He noted, "You can't deny the fact that when we misstep in the greatest latitude we have, which is to take a life, it's often been an African-American male."
One police chief, who is black, said, "Where were they when we were killing each other? Why not get upset about that? Why not form organizations to combat that?"
Buckner said, "Here's the response that would come from Black Lives Matter: That guy doesn't get my taxes. The guy I'm upset about swore an allegiance to the flag, took an oath, wears a uniform and is supposed to stand for something good. I don't expect this guy over here who I know is a hoodlum to comply with that and I don't have the courage to confront him because I'm afraid he will come and shoot me. I will pick on you because I know you won't do that."
One police chief said the media is driving the racial issue, noting other incidents not involving African-Americans don't get the media attention. "The one that is racially charged, that's the one they focus on."
Buckner agreed, noting that anytime he hears about an officer-involved shooting his first thought is "what race was the victim? Are we getting ready to have a storm? The media is a business. If they can put something out that is going to generate five days of coverage versus two days, they are going to do it."
Buckner stressed the importance of using social media to "get out ahead" on an incident. "If you wait until the narrative is set, you're going to be in trouble. If you wait a few days to respond, it's too late. It just looks like you're making excuses."
He cited the example of a shooting involving a man with a pellet or BB gun. "We quickly put out a photo of it. Put yourself in the officer's shoes if someone was pointing this object at you. The photo killed all that and we never heard anything else about it. Social media helped us in that instance."
Buckner said social media "can be one of the best avenues to illuminate the police department. One of the biggest complaints I hear is that the media doesn't tell our story enough or doesn't tell it accurately. That's not their responsibility. That's your job to push that stuff out there yourself."
In closing, Buckner quoted one of his favorite Bible verses, saying, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."Local on 09/28/2017
Print Headline: LR police chief has 'uncomfortable conversation' with fellow chiefs