Camden police chief faced with many questions after an incident involving one of his officers

State News

CAMDEN, Ark. (KTVE) — The Camden Police Chief has a big decision on his hands this week. He’s deciding whether or not to fire one of his officers that appeared to have a student in a chokehold.

Many questions are lingering on his mind: “Was there excessive force in that incidence” and “Are the lines getting blurry between a police officer and a school resource officer while they’re at school?”

The Camden Police Department has a relationship with the Camden Fairview School District. Their officers serve as school resource officers to “deter crime” by the presence of a police officer.

“Our officers will work one month there and then they will rotate and another officer will work there,” Chief Bo Woody said.

Police officers acting as school resource officers are common around the nation with the rise of school shootings and other events. In an event one happens, a trained police officer can act in the moment versus an untrained school official.

The El Dorado School District also has a similar relationship with their police department but it’s quite different. El Dorado Police Chief Kenny Hickman said their officers are assigned to the schools based on their interests and qualifications.

Chief Hickman said they look at an officer’s personality and how well they communicate with students to determine whether or not they would be fit to work in a school setting. He believes this method has worked for the department and the school.

Two of their officers have been stationed at their respective schools for many years and he said it’s easier for them to build a relationship with students.

Officer Jake Perry has been working with the department for over two years and has been in the rotational shift since he started. It’s unclear whether or not Perry had a desire to work with students but many parents say that relationship building is key and that can’t come with a rotational shift.

In the past, Chief Woody said their department has assigned officers to the schools for an extended period of time but after a while, he said they had to find a different plan.

Officers told him “they lose the fact that they are police officers” when they are designated to a school. Chief Woody said that’s why they had to rotate them “so that they [officers] don’t feel they’re locked into one job as a police officer. They’re well-rounded if they can spend more time everywhere.”

Whether or not that’s a good decision, Chief Woody said he’s not sure.

“I can’t give you a definite answer but maybe not,” he said. “That may need to change to a daily rotation. That may need to change to a yearly rotation.”

Camden Fairview School Superintendent, Fred Lilley, said he plans to continue their relationship with the police department but they want to find the best solution that works best for all.

Parents have mixed opinions about school resource officers and their role. Some don’t think police officers should be school resource officers. They believe the teachers and other school officials should be responsible.

Other parents believe police officers should be present on the school campuses, saying “I prefer it” and that they believe their children are safer with them there.

Those who agree with police officers being present say officers should be there all the time and that’s there’s “no relationship” when officers are only there a month out of the year.

Chief Woody hasn’t made any changes yet with how they will handle their officers being school resource officers. As for right now, he’s focused on answering one question at a time and that’s whether or not to fire his officer that was seen in the video.

When he makes that decision, that’s when he said he can make specific changes to policies and procedures.

“I’m working on it day and night right now,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 24 hours and I’m not going to rest until I get this resolved.”

Chief Woody said the department has an investigator that has been getting statements from bystanders and compiling video from the officer’s body cam and surveillance video at the school.

It’s a difficult decision and he wants to make sure he’s fair when making that final determination.

“The only thing that I have right now solid is the same 30-second video that the world has seen,” he said. “I’m not going to say either way. I don’t know what started that incident and I don’t know how it ended. So, I want to see all of the facts.”

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