The study recommends enhancing accountability for excessive force and increasing annual mandatory bias training.
The Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement in Arkansas presented its final report to Governor Asa Hutchinson yesterday. He created the group in June after the death of George Floyd sparked protests around the country, including in Arkansas.
“As I met with some of the protest leaders, I heard some of the issues that they wanted to raise and I said, this makes a lot of sense. These are things we ought to look at,” Hutchinson said.
The task force has 25 members who are involved in activism, business and law enforcement. Over the last 6 months they worked on the final report, which includes 27 recommendations to increase accountability, training and raise pay to a more competitive level for officers.
Fred Weatherspoon, deputy director of the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy, chaired the committee and said the report is complete, comprehensive and representative of the task force’s concerns. He praised members for their willingness to have open and honest dialogue that was contentious at times.
“But I think that made it even better because everyone had a chance to speak their heart and that was important for the success of this report,” Weatherspoon said.
Implementation of some recommendations require new legislation, which the governor said he intends to support when the 93rd General Assembly convenes in January. One piece of proposed legislation would limit law enforcement agencies to two part-time officers for every full-time officer. This is important, Hutchinson said, because part-time and auxiliary officers are not required to go through the state’s police training academy.
“By limiting the number of part-time or auxiliary officers, you are enhancing the number of those that will have the requisite amount of training that is important for public safety, for accountability and to make sure that we deal with the diverse communities in the right way,” he said.
Another example is new legislation that would add two categories of mandatory reporting when an officer is dismissed or resigns. In addition to current requirements, an officer’s use of excessive force and dishonesty or deceit would also be required to be reported to the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training.
“That way if someone wants to hire an officer, you can check that database, you can see if they’ve ever used excessive force or been discharged for dishonesty or deceit,” Hutchinson said. “These are critical elements of accountability and making sure that we have the right people on the street protecting our citizens.”
There are other recommendations that can be adopted without legislation such as increasing mandatory annual bias training from two hours to four hours, and developing programs in cooperation with community leaders, faith-based organizations, and nonprofits to build trust between communities and law enforcement officers.
Layla Holloway, a community activist from Van Buren, was chairwoman of a subcommittee focused on community policing. As part of their work, they created a survey and analyzed 2,000 responses from around the state.
“Through that we were able to find ways that we can hopefully mend those gaps between the community members and law enforcement,” Holloway said.
Based on the findings, recommendations include making intentional efforts between community organizations and law enforcement as well as increasing the amount of time officers spend within their communities.
Additional task force recommendations include increasing the use of body cameras, supporting a bilingual “Know Your Rights and What to Do When You’re Pulled Over” campaign, and incorporating de-escalation and crisis intervention training into minimum training standards.
The task force also suggests expanding awareness of the state’s four Crisis Stabilization Units, which were created to be alternatives to jails and emergency rooms for people in crisis who encounter law enforcement.
“The great thing about Arkansas is we were already ahead of the curve and we had pieces in place with these Crisis Stabilization Units, so we’re actually helping people get help rather than penalizing them for a system that has hurt them,” said Jimmy Warren, a citizen activist from Conway.
As big as it seems for the state of Arkansas, a lot of these items can be brought about through community conversations, Warren said.
“There are action items that you can start as a citizen and have conversations about with your local municipalities and get those things done very quickly,” Warren said.
Over the summer, we spoke with three members of the task force about the impact of the George Floyd protests during the premiere episode of our Affirmative Action podcast. You can listen to that here.
The full report from the Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement in Arkansas is available here.