Little Rock officer embraces new job as spokesman
Posted: October 23, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.
Lt. Michael Ford, a lawman of 18 years, joined officer Steve Moore this month as one of the public faces of the department.
Ford replaces Lt. Steve McClanahan, who had been a spokesman for the Little Rock police since June 2015. McClanahan was reassigned to the department’s northwest division, where he’ll supervise property crime investigations and the community-oriented policing services program known as COPS.
Ford, a barrel-chested man with a passion for physical fitness, said a position interacting with the public suits his personality. He said he’s been a regular participant in Tip-A-Cop, a program in which officers wait tables to raise money for Special Olympics Arkansas, and Coffee With A Cop, gatherings at which police and community members discuss public issues over hot drinks.
“I think I’m a very outgoing person and outspoken,” Ford said. “A lot of people say this job fits me, but there’s always a nervousness when you start a new job down here, especially when you have a good predecessor.”
Ford, 35, spoke highly of McClanahan’s work as a Little Rock police spokesman but said his biggest influences at the department come from his own family. His uncle is Lt. Johnny Gilbert Jr., a supervisor in the department’s northwest division who joined the force in 1984. Johnny Gilbert Sr. was also a career lawman. He founded the Little Rock Black Police Officers Association in 1978.
Ford graduated from North Little Rock High School in 2000 and decided to follow in his family members’ footsteps. He joined the Police Department’s now-defunct cadet program at 17 years old.
“It was something I was always wanting to do,” Ford said. “So when I saw the opportunity I was like, ‘That’s awesome. Cadet? Get to hang around the police? Get to learn what they do?’ So I applied and got hired.”
Ford also joined the Arkansas Air National Guard, which his uncle, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was a member of for 20 years.
Ford graduated from the Little Rock police cadet program and became a patrol officer in 2003. Another family member, his cousin Jason Gilbert, joined the department the same year. Their careers went in starkly different directions. Jason Gilbert was convicted of conspiring to rob an armored car service and was sent to federal prison, though he maintained his innocence throughout the case.
Ford, on the other hand, climbed the ranks and held positions across the department.
He patrolled “hot spots,” or high-crime areas, in downtown Little Rock until the Arkansas Air National Guard deployed him to Iraq in December 2004. He returned after six months of military support missions, such as base building, and became a burglary detective in 2006.
He attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2010.
Four years later, Ford was promoted to sergeant. He joined the violent crimes division and investigated robberies.
Ford became a lieutenant last year. He supervised officers on the overnight shift at the Little Rock police northwest division before he joined the department’s special weapons and tactics unit as an assistant commander.
“You learn how to interact with the public in each of those fields,” Ford said. “Each job has helped me learn how to interact with the public and deal with the public.”
How the department interacts with the public has changed in recent years. It has made social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, a primary method of communication. Daily posts on traffic conditions, wanted criminals and public emergencies have grown its online following by thousands.
Moore said it took some time for him to become acquainted with social media after he became a Little Rock police spokesman in March. But Ford knows the medium well. He said he’s for years had personal Twitter and Facebook accounts that he mostly uses to “keep up” with his two teenage children.
Ford said he enjoys traveling with his wife in his spare time. They’ve recently visited Nashville, Tenn., and Houston, but his favorite destination is “anywhere in California.” He smiled while recalling a trip to Los Angeles, where his wife took him to a Lakers game for his birthday.
“The seats were nice. She did a good job. I think she loves me,” he said, laughing.