Kenton T. Buckner, previously of the police force in Louisville, Ky., was announced as the new chief of the Little Rock Police Department on May 28, with his first day on June 30. He succeeds former Chief Stuart Thomas, who retired in June after serving as chief since March 2005. Buckner is the 37th chief of the LRPD. He will be paid $135,000 per year.
Buckner, 45, joined the Louisville Police Department in 1993, becoming an assistant chief there in 2011. He was selected to head the LRPD from a pool of over 50 candidates. Finalists included Buckner, LRPD Assistant Chief Eric Higgins and John Ray, executive chief deputy of the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office in Texas. Buckner holds a bachelor's degree in police administration and a master's in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University.
The Arkansas Times spoke with Buckner at his office on July 11.
AT: Are you settling in OK?
KB: I am. I've got somewhere to stay temporarily. It's my second week on the job, and I'm kind of going through orientation at this point, trying to learn as much as I can about the police department, the community, opportunities for improvement and the challenges we have. I'm just trying to get all our vested stakeholders in the room to try to get some effective plans in place.
AT: The Little Rock Police Department has issues and challenges, like any police department. They've been dealing with some of those issues for years. Could you talk a little bit about the pros and cons of coming into a situation like that from the outside?
KB: Good question. The pros of that: I think that you bring a different perspective to the table. You have a different lens through which you've professionally kind of seen the world. You've seen the workplace in maybe a different area where you've gained your wealth of knowledge. Some of the cons of that might be that it will take you longer to learn the culture and some of the outside influences that are a part of any city and things going on. You see what the agency is doing, both what we say on paper and what we're doing at the operational level. So I think there's good and bad to that.
AT: There were, of course, internal candidates who were up for the job of police chief who didn't get the job. Is there any awkwardness coming into a situation where people who may have been here for years were passed over?
KB: I have not seen that. I had conversations with Chief Higgins early, after I learned about getting the job. He, of course, was disappointed, as anyone would be. I can tell you that there are a lot of emotional deposits that are made when you enter a process like that. That disappointment is painful, especially if you really, really want it from your heart. I understand how that can be disappointing. But, as a chief walking in the door, knowing that I have someone on my executive staff who made it as a finalist out of 59 candidates, I see that as an asset. I have someone who is chief-worthy working with me, that I can lean on and say, "Hey, what do you think about this? What's your experience and knowledge about the following?" To have that information right next door to my office, I see that as a good thing. That certainly doesn't mean that I don't recognize that he could be and probably is disappointed about not getting the job, as anyone would be. But I have not seen any kind of uncomfortableness as it relates to our interaction with each other, or by the two captains who, I believe, put in for the position.
AT: You're coming to Little Rock from Louisville, Ky. Are you seeing any major differences between how policing goes in Little Rock as opposed to Louisville?
KB: Not a lot of major differences. Of course, Louisville is bigger — it's a city of about 740,000 to 750,000 people, and a police department of about 1,280 [officers at] authorized strength. There's a lot of similarities in our cities: diverse communities, a river that runs through the city, revitalization of downtown areas, crimes concentrated in communities, significant minority population [and] much of the violent crime occurring in the minority population and specifically the African-American community, both suspects and victims of those violent crimes. So, in that aspect, that's one of the reasons why I put in for the [chief's position with the] department in Little Rock, because I felt like what I had gained in my body of work would align me to be able to be successful here in this city.
AT: Little Rock, like a lot of big cities — as you were just saying — has a violence problem.
KB: We do.
AT: We had a situation down in the River Market on Wednesday night, for example, in which some people were causing problems at "Movies in the Park" and later fired off a gun, and we had 12 people killed in April alone. We've got a crime problem in general as well, but violence is what makes the headlines. What is your plan for trying to combat the violence we see in Little Rock?
KB: A couple of things. As far as the crime-control model is concerned, I subscribe to intelligence-led policing, which basically means we have some sort of mechanism that allows us to gather, analyze and disseminate information. From that information, I think you look at hot spots and focused deterrence. Look at locations where crime is occurring or is likely to occur, and focus deterrence — focus in on the key individuals who are causing problems in those areas. The reason that is important is so we do not alienate the public that we're trying to protect, and who we are asking to work with us, with the kind of "net fishing" that you've seen some agencies do with the stop and frisk and the zero tolerance. Those things are very short-sighted, in my opinion. They offer short-term success, and in many instances, it scars the community and the trust and relationship that you have with them.
AT: You're talking about going after hot spots and a focused deterrence, and a lot of the violent crime that happens in Little Rock happens in a kind of box south of I-630, bordered by the freeways. Those are predominantly African-American neighborhoods. With so much of the violence focused in those neighborhoods, how do you hit a happy medium between looking at hot spots and making those neighborhoods feel like an occupied country?
KB: The other two aspects that I didn't cover on the crime model are effective partnerships with our state, local and federal agencies, including prosecutors. I think we have to have those folks at the table to kind of reinforce what we're doing at the local level. Then the last component of that is community involvement. I see that as the foundation of an effective crime control model. Police can't do it alone. We're not going to arrest our way out of this. We have to have the public on board to do so. That leads me to your next question: How do you go into the African-American community, where the majority of the violent crime is occurring, and be effective in that community without alienating the community? Well, No. 1, they have to be on board with what that model is going to look like and what the plan is going to be. Then, we have to have some honest and open conversations as to: Who are our problem folks, where are the locations where these things are going on, and what are you willing to do to help us solve those crimes? There are a lot of folks who will throw stones at the police department, who will give media interviews about what we should be doing and about crime. But very seldom do we see them at our door when we're asking for help to solve some of these crimes. One thing that I'm encouraged about is we're talking about violent crime in our city. We've had 29 homicides so far [this year]. We've solved 25 of those, many of which would not have been solved if we didn't have the community coming forward and giving us information. That's a very, very good start when you have the community giving you that kind of support. Same thing with some of our robbery suspects. We're sending these pictures out, and the community is responding. They're helping us with some of that information. When you allow the folks that you're protecting to have a say-so in what we're doing and how we're going to go about it, they're more likely to work with you, and more likely to be patient when they're caught kind of in harm's way. When you're out doing your work, they're more understanding if they helped you devise that plan. We can do that by making sure to treat everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of where they live, [or] what their socioeconomic status is, and we have to do that both inside and outside of the police department. When you come into contact with people in the community, just because they live in a crime-infested neighborhood doesn't mean that we treat them differently than someone who lives in an affluent community. It takes time to get those things changed. I understand that there are a lot of historical scars in this community and this police department as there are in most communities that have an urban environment. Police and African-American communities and Hispanic communities, historically, don't have a very strong relationship. I can't subscribe to that. I can't surrender to that. My job is to build those relationships and bridges where we can to get them to come to the table. All of that starts with trust. Trust is built with deposits of good will, and I think we're doing a lot of things in the police department to get some of those conversations started.
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