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Cotton Speaks on the Senate Floor in Support of Law Enforcement

September 22, 2016

Today, I want to talk about the brave men and women who put their lives on the line each day to keep us safe: law enforcement officers. Last month, I spent much of my time meeting with various law enforcement agencies across Arkansas. In the wake of the shooting in Dallas and other violence against police officers, I wanted Arkansas's law enforcement officers to know that I support them and that Arkansans support them. And I wanted to learn a little more about what life looks like from their perspective. From the North Little Rock Police Department, to the prosecuting-attorneys association, to the federal prison in Forrest City, to the Sheriffs Association in Northwest Arkansas, each of these meetings left me confident in our state's law-enforcement officers and provided with me valuable insight into the law enforcement community.

Police officers in Arkansas and across the country have a difficult job-one that's unlike any other career. In the Army, my soldiers and I fought overseas to keep our country safe, but at the end of our tours we went home and many of us transitioned to other, safer jobs. But for law-enforcement officers, there's no end to the tour. They put their lives on the line every single day to keep us safe. We owe them a debt of gratitude and we ought to find ways to support our officers better and ensure their communities and the country as a whole has a better understanding of their hard-work and sacrifice.

Each of the law-enforcement groups I met had a similar message: law-enforcement officers need support, cooperation, and assistance.

They need support from their communities and their leadership-at every level: local, state, and federal. They need to know that we're on their side. And that in the face of controversy, they need to know they have leaders who will be a steady hand. Given the controversies surrounding law enforcement recently, it's easy to take a different view. But most officers, like most soldiers with whom I served in the Army, are committed to upholding the discipline and integrity of their force. They want those who violate policy and especially the law to be held accountable, but they also want those decisions made in a factual, unbiased way.

To keep us safe, law-enforcement officers also need the cooperation and assistance of those they're sworn to protect. They know this will help them not only to investigate and punish crime, but more importantly to also stop crime before it happens. They have a constant and regular presence, which serves not only to deter the criminal element, but also to reassure and gain the support of the vast majority of law-abiding Arkansans who are going to help provide them tips or help smooth waters in moments of tension.

So how do we achieve these things? I believe there are a few simple steps. First, take a moment to recognize our law-enforcement officers and the vital work they do. So many officers commented to me how thankful they were to see yard signs announcing support for the police, or when someone picked up their lunch, or just said a simple "thank you." Law enforcement is a tough job, and it can be a little strange. Officers dedicate their lives to protecting law-abiding citizens, which are the vast majority of all Americans. Yet they have to spend much of their time around the tiny minority in the criminal element to protect those law-abiding citizens. It therefore means a lot when they hear from you.

Second, law-enforcement agencies ought to continue their outreach efforts to the communities they serve. On a visit to the Jonesboro Police Department, Chief Rick Elliot told me "it all gets back to community relations and outreach." I was struck by how many of our police officers in Arkansas work to become integral parts of their communities. In El Dorado, the police department recently shared a video of an officer singing and dancing with local kids at the area Boys and Girls club. The Little Rock Police Department announced an upcoming "Coffee with a Cop" event, which will allow Arkansans to come and meet their police officers in a casual setting. A school-resource officer in Morrilton made state and national news last month for starting "Cop Car Karaoke" to get to know his students better. And I could go on.

But let's be honest here; these aren't the stories dominating the headlines. These days, it seems like the police make the news most often when there's an officer-involved use of force, like in Ferguson or now in Charlotte, or when cops are gunned down in the line of duty, like in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Sadly, these stories often have a racial element, too, which of course drives more media coverage. We haven't seen a story like this in Arkansas lately, but the law-enforcement officers with whom I spoke all knew it could happen at any time. That's one reason why they stressed community engagement so much, especially in black neighborhoods where tensions can run the highest.

So the final step, after citizens and law-enforcement officers do their part, is for elected leaders and community leaders to do ours. Too often, leaders jump to conclusions after an officer-involved use of force-not least so they can jump in front of a television camera. But as we've seen in Ferguson and Baltimore, for example, first impressions can often be wrong. One thing I learned in the Army is that first reports often usually are wrong, or at least incomplete. Elected leaders shouldn't fan the flames of racial tension and divide our communities before all the facts are known. After all, there's always a neutral, impartial inquiry following an officer-involved use of force, especially a shooting. Our leaders ought to let those inquiries occur in a calm, dispassionate setting and call upon all other citizens to do the same. They certainly should never condone rioting. When the use of force is justified, we ought to support the officer; and when it's not, the public should demand accountability.

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During my visits around the state, I met with several veteran officers, but I also spoke with many new recruits and newly hired officers. You might expect these rookies to be discouraged by anti-police protests and the recent assassinations of law-enforcement officers. On the contrary, they said they were more motivated than ever to prove themselves to the people they serve and to honor the sacrifice of those officers killed in the line of duty. We're lucky to have men and women like them.

As I left my meeting with the Arkansas State Police Headquarters in Little Rock, I stopped to pay my respects at the Hall of Honor, a memorial dedicated to the troopers who lost their lives in the line of duty. Towards the back of the room, above a small star for each lost trooper, inscribed in the wall are the words "In Valor there is Hope." These words are particularly poignant right now.

I'm grateful for every officer, at every department and agency, who displays professionalism and courage in the face of danger every day. In their valor, the American people do indeed find hope.

Thank you, and God bless our men and women in blue.