When George Floyd was killed in May, it led to an eruption of protests across the country and in Arkansas concerning police reforms. Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed the Task Force to Address Law Enforcement in Arkansas to find public policy changes to improve police practices in the state.
The Task Force delivered a lengthy report to the governor Thursday (Dec. 17). Among the recommendations were limiting the number of part-time versus full-time officers, increasing pay to attract more qualified officers, doubling bias training, and other suggestions.
“I created the law-enforcement task force in the midst of the civil unrest and violence that arose across the country after the death of George Floyd,” Gov. Hutchinson said. “That national crisis led us to assess the state of law enforcement in Arkansas. We want to ensure that we are providing our agencies with the equipment, guidance and training, support, and compensation that will allow them to perform their jobs at the highest level. The law-enforcement officers, elected officials, and community activists on the task force surveyed a broad base of citizens and produced a report that is filled with substantive proposals.”
The proposals include 27 recommendations. Hutchinson said he’s been in preliminary discussions about the recommendations in the report with key members of the Arkansas Legislature. The body will convene next month.
Fred Weatherspoon, deputy director of the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy, who chaired the committee said some of the conversations were animated and at times heated, but it was good dialogue that produced a good result.
The report recommended that for every full-time officer there should only be up to two part-time officers. Officers that don’t work full-time have less training requirements and that can be an issue, Hutchinson said. He noted that 20 police agencies statewide do not have a police chief and that can lead to a leadership vacuum that needs to be fixed.
Officers start out at about $28,000 per year, and that is far below the median income level in the state. Hutchinson said efforts to increase pay will have to be made at the local and state levels. Hutchinson said he will push for reports to be written when an officer is fired for excessive force, or if he or she loses their job due to dishonesty or deceit. Bias training will be increased from two hours a year to four hours.
One subject the Task Force did not broach was the use of choke holds. The practice is not taught or used in Arkansas and the committee didn’t think it needed to be addressed, Weatherspoon said.
Another recommendation was that the state undergo a bilingual campaign to let people know what their rights are if they are stopped or questioned by the police and what the expectations are from law enforcement during an encounter to ensure that incidents don’t turn violent.
Hutchinson and several of the Task Force members, including Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd, wanted officers statewide to know this wasn’t an attack on them, but rather a way to improve the safety for police and citizens during interactions between the two.
“No one wants a bad police officer off the streets more than a good one,” Boyd added.