LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An officer who began as a patrolman in 1996 is the new chief of the Little Rock Police Department.

At a Wednesday morning news conference, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announced that Health Helton is the city’s new chief of police. Helton had been the department’s interim chief and prior to that the assistant chief prior to his Wednesday appointment.

Scott said the department’s Fraternal Order of Police and Black Police Officer Association’s support for Helton was a factor in his decision. 

“Interim Police Chief Heath Helton will now be permanent Police Chief Health Helton,” the mayor said in announcing the decision, which was met with applause.

Helton began by thanking the “good Lord upstairs” as well as his parents and wife for supporting him and providing an opportunity to serve the community. Helton’s wife Carmen Helton stood nearby, wearing her uniform as a police sergeant with the North Little Rock Police Department.

Helton said he was “committed to a data-driven approach” to policing, citing the city’s recently implemented real-time crime center, which he called a game-changer, and reporting app. He also spoke about the importance of working with community organizations.

“I am open for dialogue and willing to work with you all,” Helton said. “I have a deep passion for this city.”

Helton said his first tasks as chief would be meeting with department members, both rank-and-file and command staff to formulate a vision. He cited a go-forward emphasis on community-oriented policing as central to the vision.

Community-oriented policing is a relatively new outlook on policing. The Department of Justice describes it as an alignment between law enforcement and community stakeholders.

Helton is the first up-from-the-ranks police chief for the city since the retirement of Chief Stuart Thomas in 2014. Thomas had started as a patrolman and was a member of the department for 35 years. 

The city had 48 applicants for police chief after the position came open with the May retirement of embattled LRPD Chief Keith Humphrey.