a couple days ago, max brantley, on the arkansas blog, posted a list of city employees organized by place of residency (little rock or non-little rock). the most skewed numbers toward non-little rock residents—confirming brantley’s suspicions—were police and fire employees.
non-little rock fire department employees outnumber little rock employees by an almost 3 to 1 margin (295 to 110). despite the margin being more narrow, the far more troubling numbers, to me, are non-little rock police employees who outnumber little rock employees by more than 100 (365 to 252).
(allow me to pause to state that my primary purpose in this post is not to deconstruct the reasons these numbers exist. i could certainly speculate about white flight, differing cultural sensibilities and other factors, but trust me, that discussion would require a whole other blog post…one that could get sticky pretty quickly…)
to be clear, i’m not troubled in the chain-myself-to-city-hall kind of way. i’m not particularly indignant about it and i’m not insistent that every single non-little rock police officer immediately buy a home in my neighborhood.
i’m troubled more in the sense that it runs contrary to my philosophy of public service. though it’s in very different ways (to say the least), police officers and pastors are both public servants. (the very motto of the police department, of course, is “protect and serve”.) as a pastor, i’m deeply driven by an incarnational approach to serving others. simply put, live amongst the people you serve. know the people you serve. experience what the people you serve experience.
you simply cannot truly serve people you don’t know. you can’t care about people you don’t know. you can’t understand the day-to-day realities of people you don’t know. you can’t understand the cultural mindset of people you don’t know.
and on the flipside, you don’t harass or brutalize people you do know. you don’t profile people you know. you don’t neglect the needs of people you know. you don’t treat people you know with fear and suspicion and assume the worst.
you see, i’m not talking about knowing street names or being able to navigate the various neighborhoods or knowing every single citizen by name within the city limits. i’m talking about being in tune with the rhythms of the city and the people in it. there’s a distinct rhythm to life in little rock. i’m not saying it’s any better than or superior to surrounding communities. it’s simply different. it’s unique. it’s diverse.
you know those unique rhythms not by commuting in in the morning and returning home at night. you don’t know it by patroling the streets. you don’t know it by responding to calls in the worst parts of town a couple times a day. you know it by living here. by being a part of the community. by getting to know your neighbors. by having your kids be a part of the local school systems. by serving in a local church or a local outreach group.
so why is it troubling to me that there’s such a disparity in number of non-little rock residents as compared to little rock residents? because i want to be served by people who understand the dynamics of my neighborhood and my day-to-day life. i want to be served by people who don’t assume the worst about my neighborhood solely based on statistics and numbers, rather than knowing the heart and soul of the people trying to make it better. i want to be served by people who have a deeper connection to little rock. more than anything, i want to be served by people who love little rock as much as i do.
the reality is that there’s a good chance we’ll see the disparity in those numbers continue to increase, but i’m holding out hope for a shift where a greater connection to the city translates into a more connected and empathetic police force.