LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas’s Commission on Law-Enforcement Standards and Training is constantly examining ways to improve the already high quality of law enforcement in our state, and today I’d like to talk about the task force I’ve created to further that good work.
I have a long history with law-enforcement, as a federal prosecutor, as administrator of the DEA, and as undersecretary at Homeland Security. I have profound respect for law officers at all levels. I have seen the danger they face. I want to do everything I can as governor to make their job as safe as possible by equipping and supporting them in their important mission to protect and serve Arkansans.
A critical element in law enforcement is trust between police officers and the communities they serve. The death of George Floyd and other recent events have undermined that trust across our communities.
The commission sets high standards for professionalism, which is the way to establish and maintain trust. The commission certifies and decertifies law-enforcement officers and certifies all levels of training. It promulgates and enforces statewide rules and regulations. The standard for selecting police officers in Arkansas is higher, and the accountability is stricter than ever before.
The role of the task force is to listen to concerns from representatives from law-enforcement and the community, and to recommend ways the commission can improve training, community policing, and accountability.
I want to be clear that the task force won’t discuss defunding police agencies. Discussions about where and how we spend money are always appropriate. But we will not do anything that will diminish the vital role of police agencies or put officers in even greater peril than the risks that are inherent with their work.
The chairman of the task force is Fred Weatherspoon, who serves as deputy director of the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy. I appointed Fred because his background makes him a perfect person to lead this committee of law-enforcement professionals, elected officials, community leaders, and citizen activists.
After Fred earned a degree in education at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, a friend who was a member of the Magnolia police department asked Fred to join. Fred resisted that idea because of a bad experience his father had with police officers when Fred was ten. But his friend persuaded Fred that if he became a police officer, he could improve the profession through his leadership and example.
That was nearly twenty years ago. Fred spent nine years in Magnolia, and he has worked at the Commission for ten years.
I am grateful for the professionalism and compassion that is common to our police agencies statewide. We want to make sure that our 10,000 police officers and our 500 law-enforcement agencies have everything they need to protect Arkansans with as little personal risk as possible.