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Opinion Police reformer Frank Scott is Little Rock’s first elected black mayor

Frank Scott, left, and Baker Kurrus. (The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP) (AP)

Frank Scott, a banking executive and former highway commissioner, won Tuesday’s runoff election for mayor of Little Rock. Scott emerged victorious despite the city’s powerful police union’s decision to endorse his opponent, Baker Kurrus. Though the city has had two black mayors, both were appointed, which means Scott is the first elected black mayor in Little Rock history.

In October, I published my investigation into the Little Rock Police Department’s use of explosives and no-knock warrants to violently serve drug warrants. The police were also using an informant who routinely lied about conducting drug buys. There’s good evidence that some of the officers misled in their testimony as well. It’s also now clear that nearly all the no-knock warrants served by the LRPD’s narcotics unit over the past several years were illegal. The warrant affidavits did not include information specific to each suspect as to why no-knock entry was necessary. Instead, they included word-for-word boilerplate about the dangerousness of drug dealers, a practice the Supreme Court has said violates the Fourth Amendment.

That investigation came up at the last mayoral debate before the general election. After Scott and Kurrus were forced into a runoff, Scott called for a federal investigation, while Kurrus advocated letting the LRPD look into the allegations internally. My year-long investigation of LRPD -- which looked at more systemic, long-running problems -- ran on the Friday before the general election. Scott again called for a federal investigation.

The issue then reentered the race a few weeks ago when Roderick Talley, the man whose surveillance video and open-records requests sparked my initial investigation into the drug raids, was arrested after fleeing an arrest. Talley was due for trial on an (also dubious) forgery charge, and was ordered arrested by the judge when, due to inclement weather, he showed up about a half hour late. He fled the courthouse to his car, and drove away. The police initially claimed that Talley had struck an officer with his car as he fled. When he turned himself in a couple days later, he was charged with aggravated assault of a police officer, and a slew of other crimes.

The Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police used the Talley incident against Scott. (The FOP has long been seen by black Little Rock officers as a “good ol' boy” network that’s much more aggressive protecting the rights of white cops than black ones, particularly in interracial disputes. Black officers started their own union in the late 1970s and have maintained it ever since.) The FOP posted a Facebook photo of Scott praying with Talley taken after the news conference announcing Talley’s lawsuit for the raid on his home. The Facebook post also included incendiary, racially loaded language about how Little Rock mayoral candidates who “align themselves with fleeing felons fail the qualifications for any public office." The FOP eventually took the post down. Both candidates denounced the post, but at the last debate before the runoff, Scott asked Kurrus to reject the FOP endorsement outright. Kurrus refused.

Scott will face challenges. Shortly after my longer LRPD piece was published, Chief Kenton Buckner accepted an offer to become police chief in Syracuse, N.Y. Currently, the police chief is chosen and hired by the the Little Rock city manager. Scott wants to change that, putting the decision in the mayor’s hands and, in theory, in the hands of someone more directly answerable to the electorate. But he’ll need cooperation from the city’s board of directors to make that happen.

Scott will also face a hostile FOP. He’ll get a lot of resistance that promises to make reform difficult, particularly in a city police department that’s still understaffed. One big issue that lots of people cited when I asked about the problems at LRPD was that most of the white police officers live outside the city. It’s important that cops feel as if they’re a part of the communities they serve -- and it’s just as important that those communities see police officers in the same way. But I don’t know how you go from a city where most of the white officers live outside the city to one where most live in Little Rock. You can’t force people to move. It’ll be a long process.

Finally, some good news about Talley. He’s out on bail, and the most serious charge against him -- aggravated assault on a police officer -- has been reduced to a misdemeanor. Talley has always maintained that he didn’t hit the officer with his car. Instead, he says the officer jumped on the hood of his car in an effort to prevent him from leaving, then slid off. It has also been known to all parties since the incident occurred that there is security camera footage that should determine who is telling the truth. That footage hasn’t yet been released, but the decision to drop the felony charge certainly suggests that it’s favorable to Talley. If it is exonerating, that makes the decision of the Cross County sheriff (amplified by police agencies all over the state) to put out an APB indicating that Talley was dangerous pretty inexcusable. That warning likely put Talley’s life at risk. Talley’s trial on the forgery charge has been set for March.

Read more:

Little Rock’s dangerous and illegal drug war

How Little Rock’s illegal police raids validate the Exclusionary Rule

Little Rock man who exposed illegal police raids faces felony charges after fleeing arrest

Read Radley Balko’s yearlong investigation of the LRPD: 'If you don’t get at that rot, you just get more officers like Josh Hastings’