The Benton Police Department is one step closer in its accreditation process as required by President Donald Trump in order to continue to receive federal funding.
Earlier this year, Trump issued an executive order regarding police department reform that requires departments to meet certain accreditation mandates in order to continue receiving the funding.
One of those requirements is that there must be a city ordinance or charter that authorizes the existence and jurisdiction of the department. While going through the accreditation process, Benton Police Chief Scotty Hodges discovered that no such ordinance or charter currently exists regarding the BNPD.
During Monday night’s meeting of the Benton City Council Personnel, Health and Safety Committee, the alderman approved approved a measure that will officially authorize the existence and jurisdiction of the department.
“I’ve asked Brent Houston, the city attorney, to write an ordinance or a city charter,” Hodges said. “That’s what the accreditation calls for. Basically what it’s going to do is, it’s going to authorize the existence of the Benton Police Department. It’s going to define the jurisdictional boundaries of the department, giving the chief of police the authority over the agency to be organized under the general superintendence of the of the mayor.”
The ordinance or charter will also describe the department’s duties and define its powers, as well as, establishing a Benton police officer’s legal authority to detain, arrest, search, seize and serve other legal processes.
According to Hodges, if the BNPD becomes accredited, the accreditation will be good for three years at which time the accreditation will have to be renewed. The department will also be required to provide yearly proof that the department is abiding by the rules.
Having an established ordinance or charter is only one part of the accreditation process.
The Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities states the following:
“As Americans, we believe that all persons are created equal and endowed with the inalienable rights to life and liberty. A fundamental purpose of government is to secure these inalienable rights. Federal, State, local, tribal and territorial law enforcement officers place their lives at risk every day to ensure that these rights are preserved.
"Law enforcement officers provide the essential protection that all Americans require to raise their families and lead productive lives. The relationship between our fellow citizens and law enforcement officers is an important element in their ability to provide that protection. By working directly with their communities, law enforcement officers can help foster a safe environment where we all can prosper.
"Unfortunately, there have been instances in which some officers have misused their authority, challenging the trust of the American people, with tragic consequences for individual victims, their communities, and our Nation. All Americans are entitled to live with the confidence that the law enforcement officers and agencies in their communities will live up to our Nation’s founding ideals and will protect the rights of all persons. Particularly in African-American communities, we must redouble our efforts as a Nation to swiftly address instances of misconduct.”
The order requires that state and local law enforcement agencies must “ constantly assess and improve their practices and policies to ensure transparent, safe and accountable delivery of law enforcement services to their communities. Independent credentialing bodies can accelerate these assessments, enhance citizen confidence in law enforcement practices, and allow for the identification and correction of internal deficiencies before those deficiencies result in injury to the public or to law enforcement officers.”
Topics addressed in the accreditation process include a review of the department’s, “policies and training regarding use–of-force and de-escalation techniques; performance management tools, such as early warning systems that help to identify officers who may require intervention; and best practices regarding community engagement.”
Accreditation requirements include confirmation that a department’s use-of-force policies adhere to all applicable federal, state and local laws. The use of chokeholds, a physical maneuver that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe for the purposes of incapacitation, are prohibited except in situations where the use of deadly force is allowed by law.
Hodges said the BNPD is several months out from officially requesting accreditation.
Alderman Jeff Morrow asked Benton Fire Chief Bill Ford his opinion on whether or not the council should also draft an ordinance or charter authorizing the existence and jurisdiction for the Benton Fire Department.
“I think it would be a good idea,” Ford said.
Ford also added that he could find documentation concerning the establishment by the council of the BNFD, but did not know if the documentation was created under statutory guidelines.
The ordinance or city charter will still need to be passed by the full council. The measure is expected to be presented to the council for a vote during their regularly scheduled Sept. meeting.