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Reform Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act, improve our public safety


Reform Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act, improve our public safety

Sep 11, 2023 | 7:30 am ET
By Mike Hagar
Reform Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act, improve our public safety
The Arkansas State Capitol dome. (Photo by John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

I would be described by most as a straightforward guy.  That may be why I was drawn to a career in law enforcement.  To fulfill our duty to protect and serve, we deal in commonsense ideas and simple truths.

We are guided by a set of cut-and-dry rules.  We don’t write or interpret law. We simply enforce it.

But with Arkansas’ outdated Freedom of Information Act, that job is harder than ever. That’s why I support Governor Sanders’ proposed changes.

The Arkansas State Police has a straightforward mission. We prioritize, above all, the safety and security of innocent citizens, including those who are elected to public office. We have the statutory obligation to protect the governor and her immediate family.  There is no mention in that statute of Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, left or right.

I was assigned to the Executive Protection Detail (EPD) for 14 years.  I served under three administrations — both Republican and Democrat.  I was the EPD Commander for about five of those years — three under Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, and two under Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican.

Governor Sanders is different from the others. She was a nationally-recognized political figure before she took office and has faced credible threats of violence since she was in the White House. In fact, she was the first White House Press Secretary to require Secret Service protection as a result of these threats — something normally reserved for the president, vice president, and their families.

I am politically neutral. I am not a registered member of any political party, and I have never donated to any political candidate. Governor Sanders did not appoint me to be the Secretary of Public Safety and Director of the State Police to be her political adviser.

Arkansas State Police has the statutory duty to protect the governor and to take whatever steps are necessary to make that happen. No security expert would ever recommend revealing the names, activities, or location of a principal’s security detail.

ASP fulfills our duty to be transparent with the public. We have a team of hardworking employees who take seriously their responsibility to supply information requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

In 2022 alone, ASP spent 4,160 manhours reviewing videos to respond to the 2,698 requests we received for Trooper dashboard camera footage. In excess of $98,992 in public funds were spent on the personnel required to complete these requests.

A single FOIA request we received this week will require our staff to review 8,000 dashboard camera videos.

We go above and beyond to supply information that the public is entitled to. But some information is off limits and always has been and always will be.

It is impossible to fulfill our mission to protect Arkansas’ First Family if we disclose operational details to the public. ASP has financial documents that, if released, would disclose specific security details, jeopardizing the integrity of security operations.  Considering how many threats the governor receives on a daily basis, this is an active danger to her and her family.

During my time serving as the Detail Commander, I was elected to the executive board of the National Governor’s Security Association.  As a result, I became very familiar with state-level executive protection practices across the nation. Besides a few minor exceptions, every state adheres to the same industry standards and proven practices, which include never disclosing operational details related to security protocols.

The updates to Arkansas’ FOIA laws that Governor Sanders has proposed would bring our state in line with others and improve our security operations. It’s just common sense to not give tactical advantages to people who may want to harm the innocent people we are sworn to protect.