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Little Rock Police Chief Finalist Talks No-Knock Warrants, Civilian Review Boards

Daniel Breen

The first of four forums with the finalists for Little Rock Police chief introduced members of the public to retired Los Angeles Police Commander Todd Chamberlain. 

Chamberlain is hoping to take over from former Chief Kenton Buckner, who left the job in November after four years leading the department. On Monday, city officials, lawmakers and residents heard from Chamberlain; the other three finalists, Little Rock Police Assistant Chiefs Alice Fulk and Hayward Finks, as well as Norman, Okla. Chief Keith Humphrey, will hold forums over the next two weeks.

Chamberlain, who is white, spoke to an audience at Little Rock's Philander Smith College made up mostly of people of color; a group reflective of the city he'd serve and whose communities are often disproportionately affected by police killings. Chamberlain seemed aware of that, emphasizing the need for proper vetting of police recruits and training to avoid improper use of force or misconduct cases.

"Because is there going to be use of force in law enforcement? Yes, there is," Chamberlain said. "Because unfortunately what law enforcement has to contend with are people that do not want to go with the norms of society, and people that will do anything to avoid arrest."

At the outset of his hour-long presentation, Chamberlain made appeals to commonly marginalized groups like sex workers and homeless people with which he's had experience working. He also stressed the need for de-escalation training, including the use of less-lethal ammunition like bean bag rounds, which Little Rock Police currently do not use. 

"So you don't have to kill somebody, you can use something to stop their actions... and it doesn't work for every situation, but the fact that that tool isn't out there right now is something that I find a little alarming," Chamberlain said.

A question about the lack of disciplinary action taken by Chamberlain against a Los Angeles officer caught using a racial slur hearkened back to last year's controversy over three Little Rock Police recruits' use of slurs on Facebook. And Roderick Talley, whose case of being served a no-knock warrant on false evidence was chronicled in the Washington Post, made a direct appeal to Chamberlain.

"Are you going to reprimand those officers, not just for a couple of days, but... push to take them through the same legal consequences that we have to go through? Because all it takes is an accusation for a regular citizen, but then the people that are supposed to protect and serve us are the ones violating us," Talley said. "So why do they get the benefit of the doubt even when it's caught on camera?"

Chamberlain said no-knock warrants "generally shouldn’t happen," but can't be done away with entirely. Chamberlain also stopped short of endorsing consent decrees, or oversight agreements with the federal government, but said he's seen them provide lasting positive changes to a department.

When asked about a residency requirement, Chamberlain said he didn't see the benefit in requiring officers to live within Little Rock city limits, noting he commuted to his previous job in Los Angeles. But perhaps the starkest contrast of the evening came when Chamberlain was asked about civilian review boards for disciplining cases of police misconduct. Mayor Frank Scott has voiced his support for review boards in the past, but Chamberlain said, in his experience, civilians are typically more lenient on officers.

The next forum, with Little Rock Police Assistant Chief Hayward Finks, is set for Thursday evening at 6 p.m. at Philander Smith College.

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