The Sheriff’s Office staff frequently provides information and answers questions from the public on a variety of common topics that come up on a daily basis. I thought it would be helpful to consolidate most of this information in one location that would be quickly available for public access. So I decided to put it in the form of a newsletter. I have broken down the information by the various Divisions of the Sheriff’s Office.
A. Payments of fines, court costs, and restitution:
All fines, court costs, and restitution on all Baxter County Sheriff’s Office cases (as well as Arkansas State Police arrests made in the unincorporated areas of Baxter County) will be payable at the Sheriff’s Office Administration Building. The only exception is for restitution ordered on misdemeanor cases by the Baxter County District Court. The District Court Probation Office is usually responsible for collecting those. We accept cash, cashier’s checks, money orders, and personal checks as payment under our payment guidelines. Personal checks will be verified with the issuing bank for availability of funds before they are accepted. We will NOT accept payment by personal check on any fines or restitution arising from violation of the Arkansas Hot Check Law. We also recently began accepting payment by credit card, under specific guidelines. The minimum amount we can accept by credit card is $50.00. Fines can only be paid during normal office business hours (Mon.-Fri. 8AM to 4:30 PM, holidays excepted) or by mail.
We cannot make or agree to any changes or alterations to the minimum monthly amount the Judge orders a person to pay. We will accept any amount a person pays toward fines, costs, and restitution. However, failure to pay the minimum amount per month the Judge has ordered may result that person being held in Contempt of Court and his/her driver license being suspended, as well as initiating Arkansas State Income Tax Set-Off proceedings. Only the Judge can modify the order of the court relating to payments.
A person who has been incarcerated in the Arkansas Department of Corrections has sixty (60) days from his release to make the first monthly payment ordered by the court at the time of sentencing.
B. Payment of “BONDS” on traffic tickets:
Persons who receive traffic citations or citations for some misdemeanor offenses in the Sheriff’s jurisdiction that do not require a court appearance, can post a “BOND” on that citation at the Sheriff’s Office during normal office hours up to ten (10) days prior to the court date. If less than ten days before court (or anytime after the Sheriff’s docket for that court date has been sent to the District Clerk), the BOND can only be posted at the District Court Clerk’s Office. These BONDS will be forfeited in full settlement of the fines and costs if the person does not appear in court.
C. Background Checks for HUD Housing Applicants:
If someone needs a background check conducted for HUD Housing, the paperwork should be taken to the Administration Offices during normal business hours and dropped off. The completed forms can usually be picked up after 10:00 AM on the next business day.
The Sheriff’s Office will fingerprint persons upon request as part of pre-employment criminal history background checks. There is a $5.00 charge for each set of prints. We do NOT fingerprint on Wednesdays, but should be able to on other weekdays during normal office hours. If a deputy is not in the office, the person may be sent over to the Detention Center to be printed. We do not fingerprint after office hours or during weekends or holidays.
E. Obtaining Copies of Reports and Records:
Most Sheriff’s Office records are public information under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and are available for public viewing, and for copying for a nominal fee. There are several exceptions to this, including specifically reports and paperwork relating to criminal cases remaining open and under investigation, certain personnel records, records sealed by court order, and records relating to juveniles (under 18 years of age). We have an FOI request form that we ask each person to fill out that will help us find or locate the documents they are wanting to view. We will not compile statistical or comparative data for individuals, nor will Administration Staff offer comment on reports or documents prepared and filed by individual deputies.
F. Eviction Procedures:
In cooperation with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, we have established specific protocols we use in handling eviction procedures for persons who have failed or refused to pay rent. We have a packet of information and forms available to all property owners upon request. While there may be other reasons for a landlord or property owner wanting to evict a tenant, the ONLY circumstances that the Sheriff’s Office can become involved in under the law is Eviction for Non-Payment of rent. All other types of evictions for all other reasons must be handled through an attorney in civil court. For cases of non-payment of rent, the renter must be served in person either by the landlord or by a Sheriff’s Deputy ($30.00 charge) with an Eviction Notice. This notice will give the tenant/renter ten (10) days from the day of service to vacate the premises. If this does not occur, a Sheriff’s Deputy will be assigned to issue the tenant/renter a Citation to Appear in District Court for the criminal offense of Failure to Vacate/Failure to Pay Rent, which is a misdemeanor.
The landlord may not, during this waiting period, change the locks on the residence, have the utilities disconnected, or harass the tenant/renter in any other way. Even if the tenant/renter refuses to leave the premises after ten (10) days, he cannot be forcibly removed by the Sheriff’s Office without a court order. The Deputy is only allowed to issue the citation to appear in court if the tenant does not vacate. Court proceedings will determine what other action is taken and when. If the tenant/renter vacates the premises and leaves personal property behind, then the articles are considered to be abandoned and become the property of the landlord. The landlord may dispose of the left-behind property without any prior notice to the tenant/renter and without recourse by the tenant/renter.
G. Civil Process Service:
The Sheriff’s Office serves most civil process issued by the various courts. These include Orders of Protection, Subpoenas (criminal and civil), Summonses (criminal and civil), and various Writs. There is no service fee for Orders of Protection or for subpoenas in criminal cases, however we do charge service fees for all other forms of civil process. The amount of service fees are set by state statute, and they vary depending upon the type of process involved. Service of Protection Orders takes priority and precedence over all other types of civil process. Service of civil process can be problematic. It is often difficult to find people at home for service to be made, and many times the address is no longer valid for the person. Many civil service papers can only be served by personal delivery, while others can be served upon members of the household who are over 14 years of age and at home when the deputy arrives. Clerical staff can provide information by phone or in person as to whether civil process papers have yet been served on someone.
DETENTION CENTER DIVISION:
A. Intake Process:
When a person is arrested, he is generally taken to the Detention Center to be booked in on those charges. The book-in process consists of the Jailer taking the necessary personal information, recording the charges from the arresting officer, photographing, fingerprinting, and searching the inmate, and placing the inmate in an assigned housing area. Depending on work load at the Detention Center, it may be up to one (1) hour from the time a person is brought in until the booking process is completed and a bond set.
B. Posting bond or bail for inmates in custody:
The vast majority of pre-trial inmates have a bond set for their charges, and they can be released from pre-trial detention if the bond is posted. A bond is nothing more than collateral or security to guarantee the appearance of the arrestee at court proceedings if he is released from custody. The Sheriff’s Office will accept cash bonds or surety bonds issued by a licensed professional bail bonding company. The Sheriff’s Office will NOT accept property bonds, nor will we accept an O/R Bond (releasing someone on their own recognizance with just a written promise to appear) unless ordered by the Court or for some other very limited, specific reason. An O/R Bond is nothing more than a meaningless scrap of paper, and we do not accept them as a matter of course.
C. Phone Calls:
An inmate will be permitted to use the Detention Center phone (free call) for the two purposes of consulting an attorney or for contacting a relative, friend, or bonding company to secure the posting of the inmate’s bond after being booked in. Any other phone calls the inmate wishes to make for any other reasons must be made as a toll/collect call to the other party. Inmates will NOT be allowed to possess cellular or mobile phones. Inmates will NOT be allowed to accept incoming phone calls from any source, nor will the Jailers take or accept and deliver messages to inmates unless an EMERGENCY SITUATION is involved.
Visitation for Baxter County Detention Center Inmates is held on Wednesdays from 9AM to 4PM. Visitors must have a valid form of government issued identification. All visitors will be screened for active arrest warrants and other information pertinent to maintaining the security of the facility. Any visitors under the age of 16 years must be accompanied by an adult (18 years of age or older). Visitation is a privilege and not a right. Visitation privileges can and will be withheld if the inmate violates Detention Center rules, regulations, and expectations.
E. Commissary Account:
The Detention Center administers a Commissary from which inmates may purchase, with their own funds, certain items such as snacks, toiletries of the kind not provided by the county, and other similar articles. Family or friends of inmates in custody may deposit money into the inmate’s commissary account for the inmate’s use. However, anyone depositing funds into an inmate’s commissary account should take note that the Sheriff’s Office has a co-payment system in place for medical services, payments for which will be routinely deducted from the inmate’s commissary account balance. As with visitation, commissary access is a privilege, not a right, and can and will be withheld if the inmate violates Detention Center rules, regulations, and expectations.
F. Work Release:
The Detention Center does have a work release program for inmates serving time on misdemeanor charges under the regulations established by the Sheriff. Work release is not available to inmates being held on felony charges. Portions of a work release inmate’s weekly wages are applied toward any fines, court costs, or restitution owed, and another portion is applied toward the inmate’s housing costs in the Detention Center. Complete details can be obtained by calling the Jail Administrator, Lt. Weaver.
G. Meritorious Good Time:
Under Arkansas law, the Sheriff alone has the authority to grant or deny meritorious good time to reward an inmate’s good and proper conduct and demeanor while serving time. Good time will also be awarded when the inmate participates in organized work details, such as trash pick-up along public roadways. Meritorious good time will be forfeited when the inmate violates the rules or regulations of the Detention Center. The Jail Administrator can provide full details on this program.
H. Community Service Work Program:
The Detention Center is used as a gathering point for persons who are sentenced by the District Court to perform community service on Saturdays. The work schedule is set up in advance by the District Court Probation Office. The Detention Center van is used to transport the community service workers to and from the work site, and a Reserve Deputy is assigned to drive them. These workers are not inmates, and they are not in the custody of the Sheriff’s Office. We are simply assisting them in completing their court-ordered community service work.
PATROL DIVISION – ENFORCEMENT AND PROTECTION:
A. Vacation Home Watch:
The Patrol Division follows-up on vacation home watch requests. Any citizen of Baxter County who will be leaving his or her residence unattended while out of town on vacation can contact the Sheriff’s Office to have a special patrol watch placed on the residence. These watches are assigned daily to Patrol Deputies to check on while out patrolling. If call volume permits it, deputies should be able to check the residence at least once per day for entry or damage, however we cannot guarantee that will happen. The incoming volume of calls the deputies have to respond to may not allow for it on a given date.
B. Extra Patrol Requests:
If a citizen is having a particular problem with a criminal or traffic complaint (such as speeding, trespassing, property damage, or etc.) he or she may call the Sheriff’s Office and request an “Extra Patrol” of the residence or area. Patrol Deputies will check the area as frequently as possible for a maximum period of ten (10) days. This is no guarantee that the complaint will dissipate, however the increased presence and visibility may serve as a deterrent to the potential violators or suspects. Again, frequency of the extra checks will depend on the call volume coming in on a daily basis that must be responded to.
C. Incident/Offense Reports:
Incident reports that deputies take in the field or at the office are generally on file with clerical staff on the next business day and available for viewing or copying. Reports still under active investigation may be withheld from the public for investigative purposes as permitted under the Arkansas FOI law. They will be released whenever the case is cleared. There is a nominal fee for copies of these reports.
D. Accident Reports:
Patrol Deputies prepare traffic accident reports on accidents they have investigated on county roads. These reports are filed with clerical staff within five (5) days of the date of the accident. There is a nominal fee for copies of these reports. Although deputies frequently arrive at accident scenes on Arkansas State Highways to assist the State Police, the deputy will generally not investigate the accident himself. That is the responsibility of the State Police under the law. Reports from those accidents are filed with the Arkansas State Police Headquarters, and they are not available from the Sheriff’s Office.
E. Seized Evidence or Property:
Any property coming into possession of the Sheriff’s Office as evidence or otherwise is catalogued and recorded into the evidence retention system under policy. Stolen or recovered property taken into evidence can generally be released to the rightful property owner once the investigation has been completed. Property or items belonging to an arrested person that have been seized as potential evidence will generally not be released or otherwise disposed of until a court orders it. An example might include a firearm in the possession of someone who has been arrested that was seized by the deputy or investigator.
F. Animal Complaint Calls:
Baxter County has contracted with Mountain Home Animal Control, Inc. (a private corporation) to provide for the pick up and removal of stray dogs and cats under very specific, narrow guidelines. The Animal Control Warden acts under the general supervision of the County Judge’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office serves as a point of contact to relay calls to the Animal Control Warden, but he is not answerable to the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office does not pick up, hold, or attempt to find and locate any stray dogs or cats. We do not have the manpower nor facilities for that task. We will, however, relay complaint calls from the public about stray animals to the Animal Control Warden to handle. The Sheriff’s Office does enforce Baxter County’s Vicious Dog Ordinance (No. 92-10) and will issue citations to persons in violation of that ordinance. We must also, under the law, take incident reports of all dog bites that are reported to us and file them with the Arkansas Department of Health.
G. Firearms Use – Discharge:
The Sheriff’s Office frequently receives complaints of people shooting and discharging firearms in the unincorporated areas of Baxter County. There appears to be no statutes or ordinances in existence that regulate or control the lawful discharge of firearms on private property in unincorporated areas. There are no regulations regarding the dimensions of the property the firearm can being discharged on, nor the time of the day or night that firearms may be discharged, nor the placement of any backstops or barriers, nor any regulations concerning the noise produced when a firearm is discharged. So long as the person shooting the firearm is not being overtly reckless to the point that another person’s safety is in immediate danger (which can be very difficult to prove criminally), then the lawful discharge of firearms is allowed. Absent a state statute or county ordinance establishing clear restrictions that were be violated, law enforcement has no authority to intervene in those situations. Some rural property that is included in platted subdivisions or developments may have “protective covenants” attached to the property that prohibit or regulate the discharge of firearms thereon, but protective covenants can only be enforced by the filing of a civil lawsuit by an aggrieved party. The executive branch of the county government (Sheriff’s Office in this instance) cannot enforce protective covenants in any way.
H. General Noise Complaints:
Although it has been discussed in the past, Baxter County does not have an ordinance prohibiting loud or excessive noise that would constitute a nuisance. Many municipalities have such an ordinance, but Baxter County does not. Therefore, when we receive complaints of loud noise, loud music, or etc., we generally have very limited options open to us other than to politely ask the person responsible to turn it down. Only in very extreme cases could a disorderly conduct type charge potentially be filed.
I. Fireworks Use:
Under Arkansas Law, fireworks may be sold, purchased, and discharged only from June 20th through July 10th and December 10th through January 5th of each year. There are no limitations under the state statute as to the time of day or night fireworks can be shot off. Many municipalities have ordinances that further restrict, or even prohibit, the discharge of fireworks in their city limits, but Baxter County has no such ordinance. Of special note is that fireworks cannot be discharged on Corp of Engineers Property along the lake under federal regulations.
J. Property Boundary Disputes:
Occasionally, the Sheriff’s Office is asked to intervene and settle real estate disputes concerning property line boundaries. These are private, civil matters between the parties involved. They must be settled in civil court by a Judge if the parties cannot agree among themselves. We cannot examine property deeds or survey documents or landmarks to determine or settle property boundary disputes. We will take a written report if asked to for informational purposes only, but that must be the extent of our involvement in those issues. Of course if a court issued orders requiring the Sheriff’s Office to perform some act or function relating to a property dispute, we would follow the order of the court.
K. Personal Property Exchanges:
People frequently come to the office wanting a deputy to accompany them to a residence to retrieve or recover personal property. We will generally try to assist people at the time they call or come in, if the property exchange or retrieval can be handled in 15 minutes or less. If it will take longer than that, then the parties involved will need to arrange for a Reserve Deputy to come in at a pre-arranged time to handle the matter, for which the requesting party will be charged an hourly fee. The sole purpose of the deputy will be to keep the peace. Any property over which ownership is in dispute will remain with the person who has it until a Judge orders otherwise, regardless of any receipts or paperwork showing who purchased the articles. An information sheet with complete details can be obtained at the Administration Offices.
L. Sobriety Checkpoints:
The Sheriff’s Office infrequently conducts roadside sobriety checkpoints as a means to deter and apprehend intoxicated drivers. If funding would allow it, we would conduct them at least once per month. However, our budget does not allow for sufficient overtime funding to accommodate that. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive concerning sobriety checkpoints is why we publicize their dates and locations in advance. We would prefer not to, but believe that doing so goes a long way toward establishing the “reasonableness” of the checkpoints if challenged in court on constitutional grounds. While there is no absolute requirement of advance notice to the public, appellate courts have held that providing advance public notice of the sobriety checkpoint weighs very much in law enforcement’s favor when the court is asked to rule on the constitutionality of the checkpoint when challenged on the claim of unreasonable seizure under Fourth Amendment grounds. There are groups arguing that sobriety checkpoints are not the best utilization of manpower when attempting to deter and apprehend intoxicated drivers. They argue that a type of targeted “saturation patrol” of a particular area is much more effective. The counter argument is that officers on regular patrol must have the requisite “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicion” of unlawful conduct prior to initiating a stop or detention of a motorist. This is not needed at sobriety checkpoints. Officers working sobriety checkpoints may contact 200 or more drivers in a 3 or 4 hour period of time, while officers on regular patrol may contact only 8 or 10 drivers at most during 8 or more hours on their shift. We believe that the deterrent value alone of sobriety checkpoints is very good reason to continue doing them.
CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION DIVISION:
Follow-up investigations take place in order of priority, with serious crimes and crimes that have a high solvability factor taking priority over lesser crimes and crimes with no suspects and little or no evidence. Any person who has filed a report that has been referred to the Criminal Investigation Division should feel free to call during normal office hours and speak to the Investigator assigned to their case about the status of their report.
If the victim of a crime (whether a person or a business) is seeking restitution from someone arrested on their complaint, such as from a theft or a property damage case, it is very important that exact details of the restitution request be provided to the Investigator as soon as possible. This includes a detailed description of the stolen or damaged property, copies of any invoices or receipts showing the value, and all other pertinent information. This information has to be relayed to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office before the case is adjudicated if there is to be a chance of the court ordering restitution to the victim.
SUPPORT SERVICES DIVISION:
A. Parades and Public/Civic Functions:
Support Services is responsible for coordinating and scheduling the participation of the Sheriff’s Office in any parade or public event. This includes traffic control, crowd control, and setting up the DARE trailer and other special equipment for an event. Any person wanting to request these services should contact Lt. Ralph Bird.
B. Reserve Deputies:
Reserve Deputies volunteer many hours of their time for official Sheriff’s Office business. They can also be utilized to provide security guard services for private events, such as shows or exhibits, for a prescribed fee. The minimum fee accepted is $15.00 per hour for each Reserve Deputy assigned to the event. Other costs or restrictions may apply. If you are in need of those private services, please contact Lieutenant Bird or Reserve Commander Ron Bata to see if your needs can be met.
I sincerely hope this information is useful to anyone having questions about these issues. Please feel free to call the Sheriff’s Office if you have any particular questions.
Capt. Jeff Lewis,
Chief Deputy Sheriff
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