Police chief speaks out against claims about the department’s lack of transparency

Police chief speaks out against claims about the department’s lack of transparency

JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - After a training incident with Jonesboro police ended in a K9 shot, it led to an internal affairs investigation and claims that the police department wasn’t being transparent.

Thursday night, Chief Rick Elliott spoke out against those claims on camera for the very first time.

In terms of transparency with the public, Chief Elliott told Region 8 News it’s one of his top priorities, and as far as the training incident, it was several little things that spiraled into a big accident.

"This whole deal was a fluke," Elliott said.

A training exercise turned into a perfect storm.

Sgt. John Porbeck was helping another officer on the firing range when, at the same time, K9 Handler Jason Myers let Rocket out unleashed.

Hearing the gunshots, Rocket responded as he had been trained.

"On any given day, that dog could be clean across the field, he would come back on command," Elliott said. "I've seen it."

But, not that day.

Rocket lunged for Sgt. Porbeck.

Dodging him the first time, Porbeck fired two shots when Rocket tried to engage him again, one of those rounds hitting the dog in the shoulder.

“It’s unfortunate for the dog, for the handler, and for Porbeck,” Elliott said. “He had to do something to hurt one of our animals.”

But it's not unheard of for officers to become the target when working with K9s.

"The dog does not recognize a blue uniform and a badge," Elliott said.

Just last year, during a police chase in Mississippi County, an officer running after a suspect was bitten by the K9 deployed in the chase as well.

That's why Elliott said all officers get basic training when it comes to K9s.

"Day to day on the street, they're going to work with the dogs," Elliott said.

In the internal investigation documents, Myers said the best thing Porbeck could have done was stand very still.

Elliott doesn't believe it was a lack of training in Porbeck's case, but a natural reaction to the unexpected situation.

"That's just our basic instinct is to move," Elliott said.

So Elliott doesn’t expect any changes in training to come out of the incident.

But what did, was scrutiny about the department's communication.

It took 10 days and questions from the media for the department to release the details.

"Learning from this incident, yes, something should have gone out," Elliott said.

However, Elliott said this one incident does not reflect the department's overall attitude toward transparency.

Their new website allows anyone to access police reports and increased use of the department's Facebook page gets the details they can release out almost instantaneously.

"The public has the right to get this information just as fast as any media outlet in this town," Elliott said.

But, there is a fine line the department walks of releasing information and protecting an investigation.

"I will always continue to get the information out there and be as open and transparent as I can," Elliott said.

Elliott said he has even started placing unapproved reports on the website, though many of the details have to be redacted until they get proper approval, in order to protect the investigation and the victim.

Copyright 2019 KAIT. All rights reserved.