Today's Paper Digital FAQ Obits River Valley Democrat-Gazette Newsletters 🎄Community Christmas Card NWA Screening Sites NWA Vaccine Information Virus Interactive Map Coronavirus FAQ Crime Razorback Sports Today's Photos Puzzles

Good community relations vital for police

by Ron Wood | July 28, 2019 at 8:18 a.m. | Updated July 28, 2019 at 3:18 a.m.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Detective David Guerrero with Springdale's Police Department poses July 16 at the police station. Police officials in Northwest Arkansas say they have made a concerted effort in recent years to recruit minority officers to better reflect the communities they serve.

Fayetteville police began racial sensitivity training in the mid-1990s at the request of residents -- a novel and innovative approach for a small city in Arkansas.

Fayetteville was 92% non-Hispanic white at the time.

Bryant was pioneering black officer

Louis Perry Bryant, son of activist and former Washington County Justice of the Peace Jessie Bryant, was the first black officer at the Fayetteville Police Department. Bryant went on to join the Arkansas State Police in 1974. He was shot and killed by Richard Wayne Snell, a white supremacist, during a traffic stop on U.S. 71, just south of DeQueen, on June 30, 1984. Snell was sentenced to life in prison without parole for Bryant’s murder but was executed April 19, 1994, for another murder. April 19, 1994, was also the day Timothy McVey blew up the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City.

Source: Staff report

By the numbers

Some 12% of full-time local police officers in 2013 were black, which is equal to their share of all U.S. adults. Another 12% were Hispanic, compared with 15% of U.S. adults in 2013. While the share of police officers who are black has remained largely the same since 2000, the share who are Hispanics has grown by about 3 percentage points.

Pew Research Center

Then-Chief Richard Watson gave the job of running a state-certified sensitivity training program from 1993 to 1996 to Sgt. Frank Johnson, one of only three black officers on the 92-member force.

"I think it made a difference starting the dialogue within the Police Department about police and community relations," Johnson said recently. "It was kind of a game changer in the culture of the Police Department, beginning with the fact that Watson supported it."

Nowadays, all the larger police department and sheriff's offices in the area have regular sensitivity training.

They also said they have made a concerted effort in recent years to recruit minority officers to better reflect the communities they serve.

But, police officials concede their forces are predominantly white and Anglo and their relationships with minority communities still has room to improve.

D'Andre Jones heads Compassion Fayetteville's Black Lives Matter team and serves as chairman of Mayor Lionel Jordan's Diversity Council, among other activities. He believes having more diverse police forces can reduce instances of police shootings and other negative incidents between police and minorities.

"Fayetteville is more progressive than some other areas, but I'm going to be honest with you, there is still work to do," Jones said. "Hiring black officers is not only good for black people, but it's also good for white people as well and for all people. But, we have to make sure that not only are we hiring black officers, but making sure that the non-African-American officers aren't racists."

Jones said diversity has to amount to more than making a minority hire and checking off a box. It has to come from a place where the majority is understanding of the needs of the minority, gives them a voice at the table and actually listens.

Jones said he sees in Northwest Arkansas a heart for diversity, but a lack of understanding about what that means.

"Diversity involves being intentional and being deliberate. You cannot have diversity unless you have equity and inclusion. You can be diverse all you want, but, if your results aren't yielding equity and inclusion, your efforts will be in vain," Jones said.

Jones is chairman of the Fayetteville Civil Service Commission, which involves hiring and promoting within the Fire and Police departments.

Police departments across the country have become more diverse since the late 1980s, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2013, the most recent year for which data were available, 27% of officers were racial or ethnic minorities, up from 23% in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The effort to increase diversity in law enforcement agencies gained momentum nationwide, according to a 2016 federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report. The report noted several contributing events, including recent officer-involved shootings and attacks on police, and the demonstrations, protests and community upheaval those incidents spawned.

President Barack Obama formed the Task Force on 21st Century Policing in December 2014. One of its key recommendations for building trust and legitimacy in community-police relations was to ensure law enforcement agencies better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.


Rogers Police Chief Hayes Minor said the department has made strides in reflecting the racial and ethnic makeup of the city it serves.

"Like everybody else, we are not a direct reflection of the population of Rogers, but we do try and attract minority candidates, both racially and females, and we're in a better place than we've been probably in the history of the department. But there's still work to do," Minor said.

Springdale police work hard on their relationship with the city's large Hispanic and Marshallese minority communities, according to Chief Mike Peters.

"We have done sensitivity training but, to tell you the truth, it's a different world now. We're hiring these young people, and I think they just grow up in an environment where they're comfortable with different people with diverse backgrounds," Peters said.

"And, I think we've come a long way in Springdale to where I feel like we have a really good relationship with our community."

Peters said Springdale has made a concerted effort to diversify the police force and, while the numbers don't perfectly reflect the racial makeup of the city, he thinks they've done pretty well.

Of 148 positions for police officers, 79% are non-Hispanic white and 12% are Hispanic. The remaining officers are Pacific Islanders, black and American Indian. The department also has 38 non-Hispanic white civilian employees, 16 Hispanic, two native American and one Pacific Islander.

The city's 2017 population was 50% non-Hispanic white, 37% Hispanic, 6% Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, 5% American Indian and 2% black.

Twenty-one police officers and 11 civilian employees are bilingual in Spanish or Marshallese.

"People are a lot more comfortable if you have an interaction with a police officer and they can speak the language," Peters said "You have a couple of interactions like that and I think it helps all the relationships."

David Guerrero spent more than six years patrolling the streets of Springdale before he was recently promoted to detective. Guerrero said being able to communicate in the native language of a minority community and having an understanding of their culture has been an advantage because it makes him more approachable.

"I think it's more of them feeling comfortable with speaking to me when they see me on scene. Or if I get to a call and they see a Hispanic officer, they're more bound to approach us than another officer who doesn't speak Spanish or isn't Hispanic," he said.

"It's easier to communicate -- of course you need that communication with the public -- and having a Hispanic officer who speaks Spanish is a lot easier."

Fayetteville actively recruits minority officers, Tabor said. Recruiting events include visiting minority colleges such as Philander Smith in Little Rock.

"We have more Latino officers than we've ever had. But, we still struggle to get African-American officers," Tabor said. The department has two black officers, said Lt. Tim Franklin, who has worked on the force for 27 years.

"I think it's important your police department look as much like your community as it possibly can," Tabor said. "It's pretty hard to do across the country. Very, very few police departments are the same as their community."


Tim Helder, who was with the Fayetteville Police Department for 21 years before being elected Washington County sheriff in 2004, said his deputies and employees make a point of interacting with the community in positive ways, whether it's hooking up a smoker and cooking for the homeless, working a small town festival or just passing the time of day with people they encounter while on patrol.

Washington and Benton counties have been criticized for participating in a program that identifies people in the country illegally and reports them to federal immigration officials, 287(g). Critics of the program say it sours the relationship between police and minority communities and takes police away from more important work, according to Beth Coger of Fayetteville. She works with the Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition and has advocated ending participation in the 287(g) program.

She said the program keeps some people from reporting crimes.

"In my opinion, police should be trying to build relationships with the immigrant community. I mean, after all, they're there to protect and serve everyone, not just some people," she said. "How can they do that if the whole community is so fearful of being deported? I think it's bad and we shouldn't be doing it."

Helder said his department participates in a 287(g) "Detention Model" program, meaning they aren't going out into the community to check for illegal immigrants.

"For someone to say that the immigrant community as a whole is afraid to report crimes because we participate in the 287(g) Detention Model program is misleading and inaccurate," Helder said. "Based on our experience, the law enforcement perspective is that it's more likely based on the fact that many people are immigrating from countries with corrupt law enforcement, which has instilled a natural fear of reporting any crime to any law enforcement, not because of the 287(g) Detention Model program."

Helder said his office checks people who have already been arrested unrelated to their immigration status. Every person arrested is asked the same questions, some of which pertain to country of birth, he said. If deputies think there's a strong possibility a detainee is in the United States illegally or is undocumented, they turn the information over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, he said.


Rey Hernandez, president of LULAC Arkansas, said there's always a back and forth when it comes to the Rogers Police Department's relationship with the Hispanic community.

"They do a lot of great things and help out in the community," Hernandez said, like its Shop with a Cop program.

If he had to give the department a grade, it would be a C, he said.

"They are not failing," he said. "They have made good efforts."

Hernandez said he's pleased police hold community meetings, but thinks they need to provide more feedback or responses to the concerns. He'd like to see more community policing.

"I've always believed that policing cannot be done from cars," he said. "They need to get out of police cars. They need to be a part of and involved in the community on a grassroots level instead of just enforcement."

He said there are still issues damaging the relationship.

"There's suspicion that any kid that wants to dress up in the current trend is a wannabe or gangster," he said.

Hernandez said he hears a lot of second-hand complaints concerning racial profiling, but it's hard to quantify if a traffic stop was profiling.

The Bentonville Police Department provides training in community relations and de-escalation, said Gene Page, the department's public information officer. Training starts at the law enforcement academy in Springdale, where Page teaches classes about racial profiling and cultural diversity.

Police departments need to look at the city's makeup to determine what works best because "one cookie cutter program is not going to work everywhere," he said.

He pointed to the Citizens' Police Academy as an example. Bentonville's population is less than 4% black, but the first academy was more than 35% black.

"So we thought, OK, we're reaching that demographic so how can we keep building on that."

Training begins

In Fayetteville in the mid-1990s, Jessie Bryant and members of the St. James Methodist Church congregation expressed a need for the sensitivity training program, based on what they had been hearing, Johnson said. But, it was done quietly.

Blacks said police were slow to respond to complaints in their community or failed to respond at all, particularly in the southeast part of town. They also said the department had no clear policy for hiring minority officers. They sought more neighborhood patrols.

Johnson, a Chicago native, said he was resentful of the assignment at first, but soon warmed to the task of taking white officers on what he called "an odyssey of the black experience in America." He said officers were receptive to the training, and he learned he could be influential.

Watson said at the time his motive was to prevent Fayetteville from experiencing violence seen in some larger cities. Los Angeles had experienced riots sparked by the beating of black motorist Rodney King by four white police officers. The beating was captured on video. The officers were acquitted at trial, and south-central Los Angeles erupted in response.

Johnson spent 25 years at the Fayetteville Police Department, ultimately becoming chief. He is now director of investigation for Walmart. He said he still believes outreach and inclusion by authorities is important and continues his work with local police departments and sheriff's offices. He also works with a group of young black men and talks about police relations.

"I'm educating them on this same model, and I'm looking for ways to bring those entities together. Getting these two groups together and nailing out what that plan looks like and communicating it to the community is very, very significant," he said.

Fayetteville Police Chief Greg Tabor said his department has continued officer sensitivity training at least once a year under his watch. Topics range from black history to transgender issues.

Bryant recently said Fayetteville's sensitivity program had a positive impact on community-police relations.

"This is why we did it. It was because we were trying to say to the department as well as the community that you can talk to each other, you can communicate with each other, we are one big communicating family," she said. "It was a success."

Bryant also participated in a program introducing young black men and women to police officers in a friendly setting.

"We tried to get them to understand that the policemen were just people like themselves. They were their friends, they were somebody they could talk to," Bryant said.

NW News on 07/28/2019

Print Headline: Local law enforcement looks to connect with communities


Sponsor Content