Leaders Discuss Impact Of Recent Shootings On Fort Smith Community

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FORT SMITH (KFSM) -- Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck said the recent shooting in Dallas hit his department hard.

"It saddens me. It breaks my heart for my former department in Dallas to go through what is probably the worst night in history of the Dallas Police Department," Hollenbeck said.

He, like many other local law enforcement agencies, discussed the shooting in Dallas before deputies started their shifts Friday (July 8).

"I spoke to our deputies early this morning  before they hit the streets and frankly their heads are dragging low right now," Hollenbeck said. "I'm asking our community to pray for law enforcement officers. I'm also asking them to pray  for the recent victims in Minnesota and Baton Rouge."

Hollenbeck also met with Fort Smith City Council Member Andre Good.

The two discussed the recent shootings across the country and how city leaders can work together to bring the local community together.

"Recently, we have been engaged with several community leaders throughout Fort Smith and Sebastian County," Hollenbeck said. "Myself, the Fort Smith Police Department have met on several different occasions with leaders here. I think it's about dialogue, communication, understanding both sides of the issue.  It's also about tolerance and knowing the lessons learned from [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] were that of non-violence."

Good said he and Hollenbeck talked about how the recent killings of black men by police and the killings of Dallas police officers by a black man have affected them personally, as well as their professional relationship in city leadership.

"What it came down to was, me as a black man talking to him as a black man, not as a city board director and him talking to me as a law enforcement officer to give each other perspectives of how something like this happens, why it happens, why it's perceived differently by different sides, by different races, by different cultures," Good said. "The talk, the interaction was really good. It was an eyeopener for me. Some of the things we talked about were training. How some of our police officers are trained. That is one thing we don't get in a community is how to be trained when we are  interacting with law enforcement. So, we have two different issues right now that we can deal with as a working solution. How do we train our officers to be a little more community friendly and how do we as a community teach ourselves, our children, our friends, our family, my son, my sons how to interact with the police and other figures of authority? Violence is not the answer nor is it acceptable. How do we move forward? By policy and practice changes and most importantly by creating better relationships within our own community."

Hollenback said the community can't be angry at one side or the other.

"We have to have  dialogue. We have to come in the middle. That also starts in Washington," Hollenbeck said.  "We have to have both sides of the issues being able to communicate without teaching the rest of the nation that it's this side or the highway. That's not the case. We need our leaders to lead. Not be divisive. It starts there. So, it's a situation that if you see an officer or deputy today pat them on the back. Let them know they are doing a good job and that they are appreciated. That really does help."

Good said recent discussions on the issue could lead to a discussion before the Fort Smith city council.

"One of the things I definitely see happening here is training with law officers," Good said. "I know training is going to cost money from a city perspective but it's called a deescalation training. That involves how to handle certain situations that they don't receive in training. This will be something extra. I have no idea what it will cost financial wise but it will be an issue the board of directors will have to pass because our budget is so tight. It will have to be one of those initiatives that we look at and say 'hey, do we want to face this. Do we want to spend our tax payer dollars on such a program?' And in my opinion I think we would."

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