JONESBORO, Ark. – On April 30, a police K-9 was shot by a JPD officer. The incident was reported by an officer but the report was locked to keep it from public view. After the report was hidden, an internal investigation was launched and the incident classified as a “training incident.”
Over 13 days have passed while the internal investigation dragged on.
NEA Report, The Sun, and KAIT all united to call out this egregious lack of transparency, which was uncovered on the same week that a government-sponsored video claiming Jonesboro was transparent was published.
Now, the city is claiming the media outlets have the wrong “perception” but that some changes are coming, anyway, to address the problems.
From Mayor Harold Perrin:
As mayor of Jonesboro, I lead a city that is significantly larger today than when I took office over a decade ago. I feel very good about Jonesboro’s progress and overall growth. We are always reassessing and recognizing ways to meet the demands that come with that growth.
A point of pride within our city is that our police department, in concert with our citizenry, has kept crime rates from expanding, as is common in fast-growing cities. Our police department continues to modernize and adapt its operations in spite of budget challenges and a more sophisticated, tech-savvy criminal element.
Unfortunately, a perception has developed that our police department is not fully transparent. This has come to my attention through conversations with our residents, but also in opinions expressed by our local news media, KAIT-TV and The Sun newspaper.
My staff has reviewed these complaints with the police department, the city attorney and Municipal League attorneys, as well as other experts in the field of Freedom of Information law and public information. Our legal counsel has steadfastly maintained that JPD policies regarding public information are appropriate and transparent, without revealing information that could compromise an ongoing investigation.
A recent incident involving a non-life threatening shooting of one of our K-9 officers by a JPD officer, however, has heightened the negative perception. Unfortunately, neither I nor the public were made aware of this incident in a timely manner.
This communication breach coupled with the ongoing perception by some has mandated that these concerns be addressed. I am taking steps to immediately reevaluate and if necessary update our interdepartmental communication protocols.
Step 1 is that I have instructed that from here forward, all incident reports will be available to the public via the Jonesboro Police website, JonesboroPolice.com.
This is a small change, but it’s an effort to ensure the public understands what JPD and your city government does and why we do it. We always strive to follow the best practices available for all our citizens as we progress together into the future.
Statement from Chief Rick Elliott:
First and foremost, I take full responsibility for the delay in revealing the shooting of our K-9 officer.
I was attending a body-camera seminar in Arizona when I was made aware of the incident, and my concern at the time was for the dog and determining the cause of the incident.
My Assistant Chief Tim Eads contacted me and immediately turned it over for internal investigation. In retrospect, we should have immediately reported the incident to the mayor’s office and the public.
We don’t regularly report active internal investigations, but this incident should have been treated differently. We know the public’s appreciation and concern for our K-9 team, as well as the expectation of transparency.
I find it personally and professionally embarrassing because it furthers the perception of some in our community, including The Sun newspaper, which has alleged an unfounded conspiracy theory that the mayor, city attorney and I have schemed to hide police reports from the public. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Regardless, the perception exists and this incident only gives validation to that narrative.
I remain confident in our practice of releasing initial reports without ongoing investigative information, as all our legal counsel has supported. But I believe this incident, and the missteps that followed it, deserve and demand a review of our communications practices.