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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Little Rock Police Department headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo. - Photo by Gavin Lesnick

The new 2021 employee agreement between Little Rock police officers and the city of Little Rock says two representatives holding dual membership in the city's largest police union as well as a city-recognized organization representing minority members of the department will be invited to attend meet-and-confer sessions intended to resolve issues.

Last year's employee agreement for the Police Department contained no such language.

The change to the meet-and-confer policy followed a dispute late last year between the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 17, and the city with regard to negotiations for a 2021 contract.

In November, then-president of the Fraternal Order of Police Ronnie Morgan in a letter to Mayor Frank Scott Jr. wrote that the city was pushing for four representatives of the Black Police Officers Association to participate in negotiations for the 2021 contract, a request he called "totally unnecessary."

As a result, Morgan said, the union was requesting federal mediation. However, shortly thereafter, the two sides resolved the impasse without the need for federal mediators, Morgan said in December.

The meet-and-confer policy contained in the 2021 contract says the city and the Fraternal Order of Police will be limited to no more than 10 participants each. The sessions will normally be chaired by the chief of police or his representative, according to the agreement, and a meeting can be requested by either the city or the Fraternal Order of Police.

[DOCUMENT: Read the agreement between the city of Little Rock and the police union » arkansasonline.com/110lrcontract/]

The sessions can address "any and all subjects of concern" to police personnel, the union, the Police Department or the city, with the exception of individual grievances.

Even so, the text of the 2021 agreement does not spell out whether the two dual members of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Black Police Officers Association who can be invited to participate in meet-and-confer sessions will, likewise, participate in negotiations for a new contract. Those discussions can be expected to occur later this year.

There was no change made to the salary schedule for officers and sergeants in the employee agreements for 2020 and 2021.

According to the latest contract, the schedule provides for a starting salary of approximately $43,740 for a first-year officer and slightly more than $66,500 for an officer after their eighth year.

Annual pay for sergeants starts at approximately $68,400. They can earn up to $73,800 after their third year.

Negotiators for the Fraternal Order of Police during the 2021 contract negotiation were Chris Ringgold, who served as the union's chief negotiator, along with Mark Knowles, Dewana Phillips, Rusty Rothwell and Van Thomas, according to the contract.

Little Rock Human Resources Director Stacey Witherell served as negotiator for the city, according to the document.

Under the 2021 agreement, the Fraternal Order of Police remains the exclusive representative agent for all officers at the rank of sergeant or below.

On Dec. 30, Scott Jr. announced that unions for the police and fire departments had reached employee agreements with the city for 2021. He cheered the involvement of the organizations representing minority employees within the two departments.

"Bringing minority organizations to the negotiating table for police and fire contract talks has never happened before, and I'm proud of the work of our team to bring it to fruition," Scott said in a statement at the time. "We are charting a new course of unity for Little Rock, one that ensures all voices are represented."

In negotiations between the city and the Fire Department, the International Association of Fire Fighters as well as an organization representing Black firefighters, Fire Leaders Actively Maintaining Equality, accepted the 2021 agreement, according to Scott.

A signed copy of the 2021 agreement between the city and firefighters was not immediately available.

Stephanie Jackson, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said in an email Thursday that she believed the firefighters' contract was still awaiting one signature.

For much of last year, Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey was the focus of criticism emanating from the Fraternal Order of Police and from a series of high-ranking members of the Police Department.

Scott appointed Humphrey in 2019 from his previous job as police chief of Norman, Okla.

The union approved a no-confidence resolution on Humphrey over the summer with the support of more than 83% of voting members.

Additionally, in September, 10 members of the police command staff -- including all three of the assistant chiefs working for the department at the time -- signed a letter to city officials blasting Humphrey as "a catastrophic problem within the Little Rock Police Department."

The Black Police Officers Association has backed Humphrey. A vote on Humphrey's leadership in June revealed that 89% of the association's members were confident in Humphrey's ability to lead the department, according to a statement from the association released last fall.

The Sept. 16 statement from the Black Police Officers Association defended Humphrey after the mayor and city Board of Directors received the letter from the command staff that harshly criticized the police chief.

"For the past ten years the LRPD has headed in a downward spiral, creating a great divide amongst officers," the Black Police Officers Association's statement said. "Chief Humphrey inherited this dysfunctional department. Recent actions of certain police personnel appear to be an attempt to cover up decades of systemic racism, disparities, and oppression of minorities."

Humphrey has taken aim at the Fraternal Order of Police, too.

In late September, he filed a lawsuit in federal court that accused members of the police union, along with many others, of attempting to oust him in violation of his rights. The police chief is represented in the lawsuit by attorney Michael Laux.

An attempt to have the Little Rock Board of Directors weigh in on the police chief's leadership via a no-confidence resolution was recently abandoned by the resolution's sponsor, Vice Mayor Lance Hines of Ward 5, after a few of his fellow city directors indicated that they would not support the measure.

Hines voluntarily withdrew the resolution during a Dec. 29 meeting of the Board of Directors.

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