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State Capitol Week in Review

Sen. Gary Stubblefield
Paris Express

A task force on law enforcement recommended that police officers get more training, more pay and more opportunities for advanced education.

The Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement was appointed by the governor last summer, when many American cities were experiencing protests sparked by the death of a Minneapolis man while being arrested.

The 25 members of the task force represent law enforcement, community advocates, civic organizations, businesses and locally-elected municipal leaders. Their list of recommendations include measures that can be implemented by local and state officials. Other measures would require the approval of new laws by the legislature.

The task force recommended that law enforcement agencies seek funding so that front-line duty officers can be equipped with state-of-the-art body cameras by 2026. Police departments also would need additional computer space to store the video footage.

The task force surveyed Arkansas police departments and learned that the cost of cameras, combined with insufficient funding for computers and staff to manage the video footage, were the main reason for a lack of body cameras.

Entry salaries should be equivalent or higher than the average annual wage in Arkansas, the task force recommended. Raises should correspond to years of service, rank and responsibility. A portion of a police officer’s salary should be exempt from state income taxes. Retirement benefits of police officers should be partially exempted from state income taxes, and disability insurance should be more affordable.

Police officers should be able to attend local state-supported colleges free of tuition, in programs similar to those available for members of the armed forces.

The task force recommended restrictions on the number of part-time officers a department could hire.

The state has already made progress on one of the task force recommendations — to maintain and expand use of Crisis Stabilization Units. The state has opened four units, where police officers can take people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. They are in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Jonesboro and Little Rock.

People who are brought to the units get treatment from trained professionals, whereas in the past they would likely have spent a night in jail and their condition could have worsened. To best take advantage of the units, officers should be trained in how to recognize and respond to a mental health crisis.

The task force recommended more training in communications and ethics. Officers should be trained to recognize any bias they may have, and how to interact with people from other cultures. That includes learning about customs, décor, religious practices and slang.

The legislature will consider a recommendation that a statewide data base keep a list of police officers who have been fired for excessive use of force or dishonesty.

Arkansas should participate in a national effort to compile data on the use of force by police officers, to provide a better understanding of overall trends.

Another recommendation is that recruits be required during training to spend time within, observing and interacting with people in the community where they will work. Police departments should work with organizations in minority communities to learn how to build more trust in police officers.

Evaluations should include psychological assessments of aggression, bias and character, to assure that officers are emotionally fit to serve.