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story.lead_photo.caption A police officer shows off the Axon Body 2 body camera in this July 2019 file photo. (AP / Ross D. Franklin )

ROGERS -- Arkansas police officers need modern, reliable body cameras with enough battery power to keep running an entire shift, members of the governor's task force on law enforcement said Thursday.

The group also agreed to recommend county sheriffs and cities reject a federal program authorizing them to help enforce immigration laws. Benton and Craighead counties are the only two agencies active in the federal 287(g) program in Arkansas, although Washington County was active in the program until the ongoing pandemic began.

The Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement in Arkansas went over its recommendations Thursday in what could be its next-to-last meeting.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed the group in June, picking a cross-section of law enforcement experts and community activists. The group's mission is to find ways to enhance trust between law enforcement and communities while improving law enforcement.

Hutchinson asked the group to review Arkansas' standards for police training and operations, community policing and the disciplinary process for officers who violate protocol.

The move by the governor, a former federal prosecutor, was made during large and sometimes violent nationwide protests over police brutality and misconduct.

The group will hold a yet-to-be scheduled meeting once a completed draft of its recommendations is ready. The deadline for the governor to receive the recommendations is Oct. 29.

The ones finalized Thursday included a goal of getting all law enforcement officers equipped with late-model body cameras by 2026.

The task force debated whether to recommend legal penalties for turning a camera off or blocking its view while on duty, but decided against it. Opponents argued officers shouldn't be legally liable for an accidental blocking or forgetting to turn a camera on during a quick decision in a dangerous situation.

"We've seen split-second decisions affect people's lives forever," argued Jimmy Warren of Conway, a community organizer and task force member who argued for the legal penalties.

The group didn't have a cost estimate for the cameras. Members said the major expense is not the cameras, but the contract agreements to keep the video stream running and store the results on computer servers.

On the 287(g) program, task force members argued the program creates division and mistrust that cannot be overcome between law enforcement and communities.

Member Geovanny Sarmiento is a vice president of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce and a naturalized U.S. citizen. If he were arrested, he said during the meeting, federal authorities would be notified so they could check his immigration status under 287(g), something to which his native-born neighbors would never be subjected.

Rogers used to participate in 287(g), but dropped it. Mayor Greg Hines told the group the program "drove a large wedge between the Police Department and our community."

Task force member Gina Gomez of Jonesboro said efforts to get the Hispanic community to trust the police have failed because of it.

No task force members spoke in the program's defense during the meeting, although representatives from the federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency were present and spoke for the program.

"We have two counties out of 75 participating, and Pulaski County, for instance, has 390,000 people and it's not using it," Warren replied. "That tells the story."


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