Hello to all. Well, it’s been quite awhile since the last Captain’s Newsletter. I supposed that’s because it’s been so very busy and hectic around here, really ever since the first of the year. My calendar stays full.
Anyway, I just thought I’d take the opportunity to give an update on Sheriff’s Office affairs since the last time I posted.
We had the massive ice storm this winter that immobilized much of the county for a week or longer. Our deputies put in massive amounts of overtime to cope with our responsibilities and the enormous number of “welfare check” service calls that we received from people worried about family members or elderly friends. We had a great deal of support from the Arkansas National Guard, and we developed a good working relationship with them. Fortunately, FEMA will be reimbursing the county, including the Sheriff’s Office, for most of its expenses related to this emergency.
Two major events that have taken up a great deal of my time are the Reserve Deputy training class that is presently underway and preparing for and applying for federal grant dollars for the department that became available when Congress passed the massive spending bill to stimulate the economy. While I’m not a fan of massive spending and living beyond a realistic budget, it is certain that those grant monies are going to be funneled out to departments somewhere, so we might as well try and get some for Baxter County. Most of those specific programs had very tight deadlines that had to be met. There was not a whole lot of time to make preparations. Some of the applications were very detailed and required a lot of information, some of which was difficult or time consuming to obtain.
In particular, as has been reported in the press, the Sheriff’s Office has applied for:
A. Two (2) deputy sheriff positions from funds available under the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Division of the Department of Justice. One of these positions would be for a School Resource Officer (SRO/DARE) for the Cotter Public School District, while the second position would be to add an additional deputy for the patrol division. This program provides 100% federal grant funds to pay for both positions for three (3) years, after which Baxter County would have to pick up the salaries for at least one (1) additional year. We should have an answer from the COPS Office by September, but hope to have an answer before then. Through December 31, 2008, the Cotter Police Department furnished an SRO for the Cotter Schools, however, due to budgetary constraints, they eliminated that position. The Sheriff’s Office was asked to step in and take over. For the remainder of this school year, the Sheriff’s Office agreed to temporarily provide an existing deputy (Lt. Ralph Bird) for the Cotter Schools. We have been working with the Cotter School and the Quorum Court to find a funding solution for a permanent replacement. As for the second position, we have been trying for years to obtain another deputy for the patrol division. Our current staffing level in patrol has been the same for many, many years, while incidents and calls for service continue to rise with each passing year. Funding has always been the primary obstacle for creating this additional position. We have high hopes that the COPS office will award our grant request and allow us to fund these two new positions.
B. A second competitive grant for recovery funds was applied for, also through the Department of Justice that, if awarded, would allow us to remodel and correct deficiencies with the design and layout of the Detention Center. While I do not claim in any way to know the back story to the design and construction of the current facility, everyone at the Sheriff’s Office has come to realize the very great, real, and immediate need for many more individual or two person cells within the inmate housing areas. Fully half of the current inmate population capacity is designed to be housed in a single, large, open dormitory style housing area. Fifty or more inmates can be housed there at the same time. This presents very serious safety and inmate management issues for jail staff, as well as safety issues to the inmates themselves. There is no effective means for adequate segregation or disciplinary lockdown. This will be an expensive project, and funding from this grant will be the only option in the foreseeable future to correct the problems. This is a very competitive grant. Many departments will undoubtedly be vying for the same money. I think it’s a toss up as to whether we’ll be funded, but it’s a definite possibility.
C. We have applied for another relatively small federal grant (apx $24,000), also through the Department of Justice, that would accomplish three (3) things. It would allow for the purchase and installation of a digital video recording (DVR) device, monitor, and integrated camera system for both the Baxter County Courts Complex and also a separate system for the Sheriff’s Office Administration Building. There have been issues in the past at both facilities that warrant the need for such a surveillance system. The Sheriff is the Chief Enforcement Officer of the courts, and he is responsible for providing bailiff services and courtroom security at the courts complex. We believe such a video system would contribute greatly to the security of the facility and those persons working there or having business there. The third aspect of this particular grant request would be to furnish patrol deputies with electroshock “TASER” devices to carry on duty in the field. This would provide those deputies with another less than lethal force option when confronted with violent or combative persons. Court bailiffs and jail staff already have and use Tasers, but funding has thus far not been available to purchase those devices for deputies working on the street. The department has a written Taser policy, and deputies using Tasers must be properly trained and certified with the weapons before they can be carried. Believe me, having been Tased myself in class for 5 seconds, I can tell you that the devices are extremely effective weapons that can be used to gain control of violent/combative suspects when properly employed.
D. We have been trying for at least four (4) years to obtain a replacement helicopter for our Aviation Unit from the U. S. Defense Logistics Agency. That agency furnishes surplus military and government property through the states to local agencies. Our current helicopter, which was also obtained without cost from the Defense Logistics Agency a great many years ago and is still fully operational, is becoming quite aged and we are concerned about maintaining it and keeping it in flying condition. So far our efforts to obtain a replacement have not come to fruition. Senator Pryor and Senator Lincoln recently suggested that we make a request for a direct congressional appropriation for funding to purchase a replacement helicopter, rather than continue waiting for surplus aircraft, which may or may not become available anytime in the foreseeable future. So, acting on their suggestions, we did submit concurrent applications to both of their offices for a direct appropriation in FY 2010, and those requests will be debated in congressional committees sometime in the future. I do not know what the outcome will be, but I think it looks fairly promising. At least it’s a glimmer of hope.
With respect to the Reserve Deputy class I mentioned above, the current class will be graduating on May 26th. Most of them are going to be with the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office, but we also have students from Baxter County Juvenile Services, the Baxter County District 11 Constable’s Office, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, the Cotter Police Department, and the Norfork Rural Fire Protection District Fire Marshall. They underwent pepper spray training last Monday night. I saw pictures. It looked like they were in PAIN! But, they each endured it well and are now certified to carry pepper spray. Once this group graduates, I believe that our Reserve Deputy staffing level will be at or near our maximum allowance under state law. We look forward to having them on board.
The Sheriff’s Office was responsible for making arrangements for this year’s Public Safety Memorial Services. The services were held yesterday (Tuesday May 12th) at the Mountain Home Park Plaza on the West side of the court house square. I would estimate that there were about 150 folks in attendance. Many emergency service agencies were represented. Our guest speaker was Mr. Jim Clark, Director of the Criminal Justice Institute of the University of Arkansas Systems. The Mountain Home High School “Chamber Singers” performed, and Mrs. Karen Jones sang as well. Cameron Scholz from the High School band played “Taps”, and the BSCO Honor Guard gave a 21 gun salute. Afterwards, refreshments were served at the Mountain Home Fire Department.
This Friday (May 15th) will be our annual Law Enforcement Torch Run in support of Special Olympics of Arkansas. The run will start at the Sheriff’s Office and end at the Big Spring Park on the White River in Cotter. We will have several Sheriff’s vehicles escorting the runners to try and keep traffic off them. If you’re driving on U. S. Highway 62 West toward Gassville the morning of May 15th, please slow down and be prepared for minor delays. The runners and all escort vehicles will stay in the right hand lane, and the inside lane will be clear for traffic to pass, but please slow down!
Another upcoming training event will be on June 10th. We will have a department meeting and training that will focus on the new legislative acts from the 2009 Session of the Arkansas General Assembly to pertain to law enforcement and Sheriffs. The Sheriff personally lobbied in Little Rock for or against many of the proposed bills. As most of you have heard, restrictions have been placed on hand held cell phone use for motorists, along with several other driving restrictions for underage minor drivers. Arkansas will also now have a primary seat belt law. This will allow law enforcement officers to pull over motorists (drivers and front seat passengers), who are not wearing seat belts. This used to be a secondary offense, and the driver had to be stopped for some other violation before the seat belt law could be enforced. No longer. Most of these new laws are not yet in effect. Only those with an “emergency clause” took effect as soon as they were passed and signed by the Governor. Otherwise, I do not believe they become effective until 90 days later.
We expect to have a very busy Memorial Weekend coming up later this month. With many of the Corp campgrounds already open this year, and with the lake levels appearing only slightly above normal, we anticipate an influx of visitors for the weekend. Also, the annual Big Flat Homecoming traditionally takes place during that same weekend. We will have additional deputies working throughout that weekend.
In closing, I want to say how much we appreciate the public support the Sheriff’s Office continues to receive. Without this backing from the public, we could not perform our duties as effectively as we are able to.
After our June 10th training, I will put out another newsletter that provides a brief description of those new state laws we will be charged with enforcing that the public might encounter or have questions about in the future. Until then, I extend best wishes and regards to everyone.
Capt. Jeff Lewis,
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