SPECIAL REPORT: Policy changes within local police departments in response to George Floyd death, global pandemic

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) – The death of George Floyd has stirred up something in not only people’s hearts but the way police officers look at their job.

Many of us watched that confrontation go down between Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin and a black man whose name is now known nationwide: George Floyd.

Just feeling like it’s me even though it isn’t me- or feeling like it could’ve been my brother or my cousin.”

-COBY DAVIS, PRESIDENT, NAACP, NORTHWEST ARKANSAS

Davis said following Floyd’s death, all eyes were on local police to see how they would respond.

Some of the events that have occurred have led to changes in law enforcement in a matter of a year that might have taken 5 to 10.”

-BENTONVILLE POLICE CHIEF, JON SIMPSON

Simpson said part of those changes would be officer accountability.

“The other thing we tried to make clear in our policy was the duty of an officer to intervene if he sees another employee of the police department, to step in and take those steps to intervene, to report that.”

In addition, keeping a closer watch on all officers.

“We implemented a software program that starts at the very beginning with the parole officer on the street, and it goes all the way up to command staff,” Simpson said. “It not only provides a clear house, but makes them searchable and re-searchable, and keeps track of what every officer is doing.”

This also comes after a monumental night for the Bentonville Police Department: the George Floyd protest in the Bentonville Square on June 1st, 2020.

“I’ve been here 27 years and I don’t think I can tell you of more than one or two instances when any handgun was fired on the square in Bentonville and this happened in the midst of this protest,” Simpson said.

The next night in Fayetteville… another George Floyd protest. This one- ended much differently.

“Luckily, the way we approached it we didn’t have any major events and it was fairly peaceful,” said Fayetteville Police Sgt. Tony Murphy. “Nobody was hurt and the officers got to go home.”

On top of everything else- a deadly virus continued to sweep across the country. We watched a mental health crisis erupt as individuals were forced to cope with the ever-changing rules of life during a pandemic.

This led to policy changes in local police departments regarding mental health.

“That’s a growing need in our community, and it’s not criminal in nature- it’s not something that typically law enforcement has the tools to handle or time to deal with,” said Fayetteville Police Chief, Mike Reynolds.

For the Fayetteville Police Department, this meant embedding social workers with law enforcement officers.

“These are master level social work interns that the University of Arkansas is providing us,” Reynolds said. “Initially they’ll be a secondary response, so it’ll give us time to gather data and determine what our needs are here in Fayetteville.”

But Davis said he would like to see officers focus on their own mental health, too.

“That work is tough,” he said. “Seeing negative things every day, there’s gotta be some type of trauma that exists.”

He said he would also like to see law enforcement engage with the community- person to person.

“Sometimes it’d be nice if the police interacted with us in plain clothes, where it didn’t feel like if anything happened it could turn into something different,” Davis said.

Community engagement is something Sgt. Murphy said he also is focused on.

We are the community, and we want to police our community the way that they need to be policed and the way that they want to be policed, and there’s no way of knowing this without engaging with them.”

-FAYETTEVILLE POLICE SGT. TONY MURPHY

The NAACP is also holding an event May 17th for minorities and police officers to discuss what they would like to see and how they can move forward together.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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