|WHERE'S THE CHIEF?|
At last night's meeting of the LR Board of Director's, several speakers called for the immediate resignation of LRPD Chief Kenton Bucker, and most of the city leaders in attendance.
Buckner became visibly agitated when board members suggest that he seek help from other law enforcement agencies, especially the Arkansas State Police.
Buckner addressed the city Board of Directors for 90 minutes Wednesday night on the gunfire, fielding questions from concerned officials and residents.
Few new details emerged from Wednesday’s board meeting. Buckner spoke generally about the gunfire and ongoing investigation.
The shooting is believed to have been sparked from a dispute and is likely related to a long-standing feud among two “rival organizations,” he has said.
Memphis rapper Ricky Hampton, who performs under the name Finese 2Tymes and was present at the time of the shooting, was arrested Sunday on an aggravated-assault charge related to a shooting June 25 at Club Envy in Forrest City.
Hampton, 25, is considered a “person of interest” in the Little Rock nightclub shooting. No arrests had been made as of Thursday afternoon.
While violent crime is up in Little Rock this year, the numbers are still well below those of the 1990s, the height of gang violence, according to police.
Since Jan. 1, instances of violent crime — which includes homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — have increased 24 percent over 2016 figures. Nearly 1,400 cases have been reported so far this year.
Some Little Rock residents have attributed the uptick in violence to apathy on the part of city officials and what they perceive as racism against certain groups in the city.
City Director Lance Hines asked the police chief at the meeting — the board’s first since the mass shooting — whether state police could handle patrols in lower-crime areas to free up officers.
Governor Hutchinson had requested that Buckner join him and attend a meeting of a multi-agency effort targeted at aiding law enforcement officials in the state’s capital city, days after a shooting at a Little Rock nightclub left 28 people injured, scheduled to take place this afternoon.
Buckner refused to go and sent his underling, Assistant Chief Bewley.
At a press conference at the State Capitol this afternoon, Hutchinson said county, state and federal agencies will collaborate with the Little Rock Police Department as well as city leaders in addressing a recent uptick in gun violence, with agencies working collaboratively on information sharing as part of investigations.
"The urgent need is about safe streets and freedom from drive-by shootings and peace in our community," Hutchinson said.
Additional resources will also be offered through a joint investigative group utilizing the Arkansas State Police, FBI and Pulaski County sheriff’s office to enhance intelligence operations, target gang violence, provide greater enforcement of alcoholic beverage control laws, give more intense supervision of those out on parole and commit necessary jail space.
Among those present during Thursday’s news conference were Little Rock Assistant Police Chief Wayne Bewley, Arkansas State Police Director Bill Bryant, Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay, acting U.S. Attorney Patrick Harris and Arkansas Community Correction Department Director Sheila Sharp.
“The looming cloud of violence harms us all,” Hutchinson said, noting that the escalating violence in recent years “causes worry." He referenced Little Rock as the state's seat of government as well as a center for tourism, medical services and economic development.
"If Little Rock is not safe, then we cannot succeed in our goals as a state," Hutchinson said.
The governor also addressed a understaffing issue within the Little Rock police force. About 70 officer positions remain unfilled, leaving the agency unable, at times, to adequately address problems in the city, he noted.
"There is a need for additional resources in targeting, investigating and responding to the current threats," Hutchinson said.
Still, the governor stressed, the crime challenges in Little Rock must ultimately be solved by the resources of local law enforcement.
Bewley of the Little Rock Police Department's Investigative Bureau stressed that police already partner with other agencies. This new effort, he said, will allow the department to "increase that footprint and focus on those that need the attention."
"This [gives us] the ability to investigate much deeper ... to actually make progress and see a change in this violence," Bewley said.
Brewley's comment appear to contradict the statements his boss made the previous evening at the LR Borad of Director's meeting.
After Thursday's news conference, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola told reporters that while he wished recent gun violence hadn't happened, he believes that Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner has done everything he can to address the issue, a face saving measure to try and calm down the beleaguered Chief.
Buckner was set to host a public forum at 6 p.m. Thursday at Hall High School as part of the Police Department's Chat with the Chief series and had plenty of time to join the Governor and the other agency heads to discuss issues that directly affect his department.
Social media has exploded with comments that Buckner is on his way out and if Mayor Stodola is not careful, the Governor will declare Martial Law in the Capitol City and remove him and the Board of Directors and appoint a Governor General to head city government.