How to Become a Police Officer in Arkansas
Since the median income level in Arkansas is lower than in most states, the region’s crime rate is relatively high. Little Rock in particular needs strong, capable men and women to enforce the law and ensure the safety of its citizens. Police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and state troopers fulfill a necessary and valuable service to the people of Arkansas.
In order to qualify for a sworn position, applicants must meet the following requirements that have been set by the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training.
- Be a U.S. citizen
- Be 21 years of age or older
- Submit fingerprints for a state and national search
- Have no felony record
- Be of good character as proven by a background investigation
- Have a high school diploma or GED (home school diplomas must be approved by the Commission)
- Meet physical requirements for the job according to a licensed physician
- Sit for an interview with a representative of the hiring agency
- Undergo a psychological evaluation by a licensed psychiatrist and be deemed competent for a law enforcement position
- Possess a valid Arkansas drivers license
- Have no misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence
- Pass a CLEST firearms qualifications test
- Review departmental policies especially regarding use of force, criminal law, and emergency vehicle operations
Individual agencies may add to these minimum requirements. During an interview, department heads often look for signs of self-motivation and the ability to communicate. A pleasant demeanor, neat appearance, and positive attitude are important factors as well. Recruits must gain employment in the state as an officer, deputy, or trooper before entering the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy.
Members of the “Veterans to Law Enforcement” program may be accepted into this training academy without current employment with an agency. The Director of CLEST must approve all applicants for membership. In order to attend the training school, participants are required to meet the following criteria.
- Have served a minimum of six months active duty in the U.S. armed forces within the past ten years
- Meet all CLEST minimum standards
- Pay the non-refundable cost of the law enforcement training course before classes begin
The hiring agency determines where a recruit will receive training. For example, a new trooper with the Arkansas State Police must complete 1,080 hours at the organization’s training academy in Little Rock. On the other hand, the Fort Smith Police Department conducts most of its own training on the premises. Some agencies send their rookies to Black River Technical College in the northeastern part of the state for basic police training plus criminal investigations, SWAT team techniques, traffic incident management, etc.
A state-approved academy prepares students for certification through CLEST and provides them with essential skills for a career in law enforcement. The comprehensive program includes classroom lessons, physical training, and practical exercises. Under the direction of certified instructors, the following subjects may be covered.
- Firearms training
- Police traffic radar
- K-9 instruction
- Taser training
- Baton and handcuffing techniques
- Defensive tactics
- Officer safety
- Active shooter response
- Chemical munitions defense
- Less-lethal munitions defense
- Driver training
- Field sobriety testing
- Roadside impaired driving enforcement
- Drug recognition training
- Ethics training
- Stop stick instruction
- First responder operations
- Intoximeter operation
- National incident management
The length of the police academy is normally about 13 weeks. At some schools, recruits stay in dorms and are provided meals. An officer’s wage while attending the academy is approximately $16.00 per hour; upon graduation, the hourly rate increases to $17.00 or more. For trainees who take the program at Black River Technical College, more than 1,100 hours of instruction are required at a cost of several thousand dollars.
Each academy graduate remains under probation until he is ready to serve in a solo capacity. A new state trooper must work with a Field Training Officer for 12 weeks following certification to finish an 18-week probationary period. He must be able to patrol alone by the end of a 12-month term in order to keep his position with the agency. Otherwise he must wait for 24 months before reapplying to the academy.
If the training process has been successfully completed, then the well-prepared recruit is given an assignment in the state. He must be willing to work in any county at first but can request a transfer after two years. A three-year trooper in the Patrol Division is eligible for a promotion.
Benefits and Career Paths
Although the job of a law enforcement officer is challenging and, at times, dangerous, it comes with many benefits. Below are some of the perks that a new recruit can expect.
- Health insurance
- Life insurance
- Accidental death and dismemberment
- Disability benefits
- State retirement plan
- Sick leave
- Vacation pay plus discretionary days after years of service
The Little Rock Police Department awards sworn officers with longevity pay. Employees who have been with the department for up to 15 years receive each month a bonus of $5.00 times their number of years. Officers who have been employed with the city between 16 and 25 years get a monthly rate of $6.00 times their number of years in service.
In addition to a meaningful career, law enforcement offers many different areas of specialization. A seasoned officer may choose to stay on patrol or opt for a desk job. The following divisions provide opportunity to the professional Arkansas police officer.
- Criminal investigations
- Office of professional standards (internal investigations)
- Crimes against children
- Traffic division
- Highway patrol
- Special investigations (vice)
- Internet crimes
- Federal task force programs
- Fleet operations
- Information technology
- Administrative services
- K-9 division
- Public relations
- Firearms instruction
- Crime prevention
- Missing persons
- Wanted persons division
- SWAT team
- Water patrol
- Crisis negotiations
- Honor guard
- Accident reconstruction
- Detention facilities