Greetings to all. It’s been quite some time since I worked up a newsletter. Although we’ve been awfully busy, much of it has been relatively routine, dealing with every day law enforcement and county business. However, there are a number of items that I will try to bring everyone up to date on.
Although we were dismayed that our application to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office for federal grant funding was not awarded in the initial round, we are very thankful that our Quorum Court decided anyway to approve the School Resource Officer position for us at the Cotter Schools. Deputy Julie Tilley, who had been serving as Sergeant in the Detention Center, has been appointed to the Cotter SRO position, and she has assumed her duties at the Cotter School. She was unanimously selected by an interview board consisting of members of the Sheriff’s Office and representatives from the Cotter School System, and the Sheriff happily accepted the board’s recommendation. Deputy Tilley is excited to be working in the Cotter Schools, and I know the school is glad to have her there. It is interesting to note that only 14% of the more than 7,000 applications to the COPS office were funded this time. There were no agencies in this part of Arkansas that received any COPS funds at all. Our application is still alive, and it will again be considered if additional funds are appropriated to the COPS program in fiscal year 2010.
We were awarded a Department of Justice grant for almost $24,000 from the Edward Byrne Memorial Program. The money is being used to supply Tasers (electro-shock devices) to the deputies on duty in the patrol division, and to purchase and install DVR recording and security camera systems at both the Baxter County Courts Complex building and the Sheriff’s Administration Building.
There has still been no word received on the third, and largest, grant application we made for stimulus funds. This one, for about $900,000, would be for very badly needed renovations to a particular area of the Detention Center. The renovations would include the conversion of a large portion of the existing open dormitory area into numerous individual cells designed to house anywhere from 1 to 4 inmates each. The existing wide open dormitory area is much too large and has caused major issues with security, leading to fights, disturbances, and destruction of county and inmate property by inmates who cannot seem to co-mingle together. We currently do not have facilities to adequately segregate or isolate problem inmates, and therefore we have no truly effective means to deal with them. The large open dormitory area must go. This is a top priority.
The Sheriff’s Office continues to search for funding sources to purchase a replacement helicopter. Although our existing helicopter is fully operational, it is ageing and should be replaced soon. We have been working with our congressional delegation in Washington, DC to acquire funding through surplus property programs, grants, or direct appropriation funding.
We were very excited to announce the formation last month of the Baxter County Sheriff’s Foundation, Inc., which was announced at the open house we held on the evening of September 24th. This is a non-profit corporation, and its creation was made possible due to a generous donation of $33,000 from the estate of a Baxter County resident. The foundation was formed for the purpose of promoting and helping to provide for the needs of the Sheriff’s Office and its personnel through equipment acquisitions, scholarships, training, certifications, and other related activities. The foundation is governed by a board of directors who volunteer their time and services to the foundation. We look forward to the long term role that the foundation is expected to play in the future of the Sheriff’s Office.
September also brought the availability of a new electronic monitoring system called “SecureAlert” to the Sheriff’s Office and the courts. This system will allow us to track certain persons by electronic means (GPS, cell phone, and radio frequency) who are out of custody on bond or serving sentences under “house arrest” as the case may be. There are specific criteria and guidelines in place as to when and under what conditions these monitoring devices will be used. In most circumstances, the person wearing the monitor will be required to pay for the costs of the monitor. We strongly believe that persons who are sentenced in court to serve time as part of their sentence should serve it within the confines of the Detention Center in almost all cases. However, there are occasionally rare or unusual circumstances where it would be in the best interests of all persons and entities involved that the person serve the sentence under “house arrest”, as enforced by electronic monitoring means.
On September 8th, Sheriff’s deputies received training in the new “Silver Alert” system. This new system, implemented by direction of the Arkansas Legislature, is substantially similar to the better known “Morgan Nick Amber Alert” system, only it is for the benefit of the elderly, rather than children. Protocols and alert requirements are similar between the two programs. The program is administered by the State Police.
On October 19th, the Sheriff’s Office hosted the bi-annual qualification shoot for retired law enforcement officers. Yearly firearms qualification is required in order for retired officers to carry their handguns throughout the nation. We hold the qualifications in April and October each year. About 35 retired officers participated this time. We are pleased to be able to provide this service to our retired brothers.
Our friends at the Mountain Home Police Department have continued to aggressively recruit Sheriff’s deputies to work for that agency. In my opinion, MHPD is primarily successful in their efforts due to the substantially better pay and benefits that the City of Mountain Home provides, versus those that Baxter County provides. This is extremely aggravating, and it costs the County of Baxter thousands of tax payer dollars each year in wasted hiring and training expenses, only to then lose those employees to our competitors across the street. I see only one remedy to this situation…….become competitive. That decision lies with our legislative branch of government. Of course, insufficient revenue and funding are always obstacles to improvements. I cannot help but wonder, though, how our circumstances might improve if only some of the cities could be made to pay their delinquent jail boarding bills for city prisoners, which is now approaching the collective $200,000 mark since 2006. These costs are disputed, but when you cut through the peripheral arguments and get to the bottom of the matter, it’s really very simple. If a city police officer arrests a person, brings that person to the County Detention Center, cites or charges that person into court in the name of and by the authority of the city, and the city collects ALL fine revenues upon conviction, then the city should pay ALL the costs of housing that prisoner in the jail. I do not see why Baxter County should absorb any of those housing costs under those conditions. Cities are permitted to construct and operate their own jails if they wish. If they do not, then they should be required to pay for housing their prisoners in another jail, and that is what the law mandates. I am certainly all for working together and sharing resources for the common good, but each entity needs to pay its fair share. That is not happening now.
Halloween will soon be here. It’s on Saturday, October 31st this year. While we do not anticipate any problems at all, which has been the norm the past several years, we are going to be prepared. We will have an extra deputy patrolling each of our six (6) rural patrol zones in Baxter County that evening, in addition to our regular patrol deputy schedule. We anticipate that there will be a great number of children going door to door in the residential areas, as well as greatly increased vehicular traffic. We ask all motorists to slow down and pay extra close attention, particularly on residential streets. All too quickly a small child can dart in front of a vehicle from behind a shrub or parked car. Be prepared and be on the alert!
We have received increasing complaints of drivers not stopping for school buses that are loading or unloading children. These complaints have been particularly prevalent on the new five laned Highway 62, East of Mountain Home. Drivers traveling in all directions should remember that they must completely stop and remained stopped while buses are loading and unloading children, with the red lights flashing. This is true on all multi-laned roadways other than those divided by a center median. The Arkansas Legislature implemented a program during the 2005 session that allows arrest warrants to be issued and charges filed against registered owners of vehicles who fail to stop, if the bus driver writes down the license plate number and a reasonable description of the vehicle and submits them to law enforcement. Several of these complaint forms are turned in to the Sheriff’s Office each year, and we follow-up on each and every one of them.
That’s all for now. As always, we sincerely appreciate the support that this office receives from the public we serve. We extend best wishes and regards to everyone throughout the upcoming holiday seasons and the remainder of the year.
Capt. Jeff Lewis,
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