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Arkansas

Meeting with the new Chief of Police Kemberle Braden

 

Kemberle Braden will be Fayetteville’s next police chief. Current boss Gina Hawkins will retire on January 31st. Braden worked in the department for nearly 27 years.

“I am delighted with the opportunity to provide officers working on the side; we have the opportunity to really change some things and how we operate in the community,” Braden said.

Braden started out as a patrolman in the field. In 2002, Braden was shot and killed while investigating a reported drug use. Braden was shot five times. Braden’s most difficult moment in his entire career with the Fayetteville Police Department was returning to work after he had been shot.

“The thing that really took the most courage from me was getting back to work and getting my uniform back on. Everything was easy after that. But coming back from the shooting, coming back without a job, I think it was about eight months, there was a lot of fear, anxiety, anxiety associated with it,” Braden said.

“I have accomplished a lot in my career. I’ve been in the special forces for 22 years. You know, I’ve been through a lot of doors, a lot of things that people would call scary,” he said.

“But probably the scariest and most disturbing time was when I was going back to work because I had a lot of self-doubt. There were many [thinking about]should i do it, can i do it. It wasn’t that first day ago, and only a few years later, when you look back and say, “OK, yeah, what I did there was quite an achievement.”

He has since risen through the ranks and is now an Assistant Chief of Police who leads patrol operations and investigations. When asked why he applied for the position of chief of police, Braden replied that some of it was a natural promotion, but mostly it was to influence politics and changes in the community and the FPD.

“We always said, ‘If I was in charge, that’s what I would do,’ you know, and that was also part of the motivating factor along the way. I had the opportunity to see that my plans or my ideas were good enough to actually do what I thought I could do,” Braden said.

“And they weren’t always; sometimes I made mistakes and I had some setbacks along the way, but that was okay and it sort of got me to where I sit today.”

Entering the role, Braden says he doesn’t have specific goals or plans at the moment.

“I need to take some time and evaluate what is really going on. I don’t want to rush into anything. I think I will get a clearer direction of where we need to go based on conversations with individuals, both inside and outside the company. I think there are some things that need to be changed within the department and get feedback from the officers and command staff, get their vision of what these changes can be, ”Brayden said.

Braden did not elaborate on what he meant by what he would like to change internally, but said that on the community side, he wants to continue to hold open houses and get feedback from the community. First of all, he wants to establish what the community’s expectations are for the police department.

“The best way to manage someone’s expectations is to know what those expectations are. You know, if I just walk out and say, “Hey, I’m giving you this.” It’s not even on your list of wants or needs, you’ll never be satisfied with anything I do,” Braden said.

Looking up to Gina Hawkins as chief of police, Braden says he respects how she treated the welfare of officers and made it one of his priorities.

“I think she put a lot of emphasis and changed the culture of the police regarding officer health. More efforts have been made in the last couple of years to improve the health of officers than I have probably seen in my entire career. [Officers] be able to seek advice if that is something the officer’s staff decides to do or needs to do, having it available to us as an option. I think that many, many employees have taken advantage of this program. I think that often we are so focused on “what we do to fight crime” that we forget about the people who are actually the ones who deal with crime on a daily basis. How we manage and deal with things that affect us as individuals. We are the sum of all our experience. You can’t just visually see trauma and pain from day to day and have no outlet for it,” Braden said.

Police departments across America are facing a shortage of personnel. The Fayetteville Police Department currently has 30 officer vacancies. In recent years, the Fayetteville Police Department has tried several recruiting tactics, such as hosting a job fair in Puerto Rico and now hosting monthly orientation sessions for people to talk to recruiters.

For Braden, the focus is on employee retention, which focuses on the well-being of officers. He says that if he can focus and solve some of the problems people have, then recruiting will be easy.

“I have to understand why people leave, why people don’t stay, stay and live in their thirties, considering it as a profession and striving for a career. If I can solve some of these problems, get people to work the way they want, they like the job, they want to be professional officers, you know, have that professional image and be part of something bigger than themselves.” he said.

Braden says he believes there are three things in this career that make for success: confidence, competence, and a bit of charisma.

“If I can instill these three things, I think the cops will get back to work if they are confident that the department, their community will support them if they know they are doing the right thing. If they have the competence, they know what the law and politics say. They know the difference between right and wrong. And like I said, if they can treat people with kindness and be nice people, I think we’ll see a difference. And we see the cops get motivated and [they] get involved in work again and want to stay and make a thirty-year career.”

Lieutenant Diana Holloway said Braden was “what you see is what you get” type.

“He is a sharp shooter. It doesn’t embellish anything. If he has it and knows about it, he will tell you. If he doesn’t, he’s like, “Hey, we’ll figure it out.” We’ll figure out how to do it.” So he’s honest and whatever he says is what it is,” Holloway said.

Braden will take office February 1; however, no official swearing-in ceremony was announced. Braden would become Fayetteville’s 25th police chief.

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