It seems like just yesterday that school wrapped up for the year, the summer holidays were getting ready to be here, and it was time to hit the lakes and parks for some outdoor R & R. Then, in a flash, it’s the middle of August. The new school year has begun, the parks and lakes are pretty much empty during the week, and it too hot outside to even think about. We’ve still got the long Labor Day weekend and the always popular Baxter County Fair to look forward to before the fall of the year arrives.
Historically, the summer has always been the busiest time for the Sheriff’s Office. The tourists and vacationers arrive in droves. Out of state license plates are everywhere you look. That’s great for the local economy, but strains the resources of local law enforcement. I noticed several times during the past couple of months that our inmate count at the Detention Center was hitting high points for the year. Our daily average head count is about double what it was in 2005 when I came to the Sheriff’s Office. The numbers will only go up as the years continue to go by (and no, our number of Jail Staff employees has not doubled, or even increased at all since 2006).
We have accomplished so much under Sheriff Montgomery’s leadership in the last 5 ½ years. There’s no need to recount it all here. Everyone who supports and has an interest in the Sheriff’s Office already knows that. However, we still have many challenges ahead and hurdles to overcome to continue improving the Sheriff’s Office in the years ahead to meet the goals that the Sheriff has set. Some of those goals include:
1. Renovations and remodeling to the Detention Center. As I have said in previous commentary on this subject, the jail is seriously deficient in the number of holding cells and isolation cells. These confined spaces are crucial when it becomes necessary to segregate inmates for behavioral and other reasons. Far too much space was devoted to open dormitory style housing arrangements when the jail was built. We have plans to correct this, but funding has not thus far availed itself to us. A grant we sought from the so-called stimulas monies in 2009 was not successful.
2. Staffing enhancements. We currently have real needs for two more Jailers and another Patrol Deputy. We applied for a grant to cover 100% funding for three years for another deputy position, but that application is still pending. We are still hopeful it will be approved in the near future. We hope to eventually be able to fund salaries for new Jailers through the collection of Special Jail Fees that we collect from each citation or charge. The County by ordinance currently assesses a $20.00 fee/fine on each citation or charge for Special Jail Fees. These monies by law can only be used for expenses related to the Jail and for a very few other purposes. If long term collection projections hold true, we will eventually be able to fund new Jailer positions from these fees without having to draw from the County General Fund.
3. Live Scan fingerprint system. We hope to acquire a digitalized, computerized system for taking fingerprints and submitting them electronically to the state and federal databases for comparison and analysis. Currently, fingerprints of arrested persons and suspects are taken on sets of cards using ink, much as they have been since law enforcement first began taking fingerprints many decades ago. They are sent by mail to the Arkansas State Police Identification Bureau in Little Rock to be classified and categorized. That can take a great deal of time. With the live scan system, we will be able to have prints classified and compared for matches to criminal suspects and fugitives within a matter of minutes or hours. The benefits are obvious.
4. STEP Grant. The Sheriff’s Office was just notified that we have been awarded a $22,000 grant from the Highway Safety Office for specialized and enhanced enforcement efforts targeting DWIs, Speeding, Seat Belt, and Child Restraint violations. These funds will be used to pay overtime to off duty deputies who want to work this extra duty on their days off and earn some extra money. I believe the Sheriff’s Office once participated in this program many years ago, but we will now have it back again, thanks to Sgt. Andy Bower‘s diligent efforts. There are particular rules and regulations imposed by the Highway Safety Office that we will have to follow, including making a minimum number of “contacts” each hour and preparing certain documentation and reports. A “contact” is simply a vehicle stop that results in a warning, citation, or arrest for some valid reason. Deputies will have complete discretion as to whether a warning or citation will be issued.
5. Inmate and Community Service Work Details. Few things bring forth as many positive comments as when people see inmates out working, picking up trash, clearing property, mowing, or whatever it might be. We take inmates out to work whenever we have an opportunity to. We anticipate utilizing them more and more often for clean up projects in the coming months. We take community service workers out each Saturday morning to pick up trash or to perform work at various sites. These folks are working because the court ordered them to. The come in on Saturday mornings and a Reserve Deputy transports them to the work site or follows them along the roadway while they pick up trash. Unlike Jail inmates, these community service workers are not in Sheriff’s Office custody, and we are not directly responsible for them. One project in particular that we want to get underway this fall is cleaning up some of the old cemeteries around the county. There are many of them out there that are completely neglected and uncared for. We hope to be able to give a face lift to some of them at least. It’s a terrible shame that they have deteriorated so much.
6. 2011 legislative package. The Arkansas General Assembly will again be in session in 2011. There will undoubtedly be thousands of bills filed on a huge multitude of topics. Sheriff Montgomery serves on the legislative committee of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association. He and the other Sheriffs will be working closely with their local State Senators and State Representatives on a variety of bills designed to enhance public safety, protect the public, and streamline operations. Additional details and specifics will be released as they become available later in the year.
Those are just some of the items we will be looking at again in the coming months.
Back to the subject of school for a moment. It’s time to pay special close attention to those school buses and bus stops again. As everyone should know, anytime there is a school bus stopped with its red lights flashing and the bus is loading or unloading passengers, then every driver meeting or approaching the bus from any direction must come to a complete stop and remain stopped until the bus moves on. The only time this doesn’t apply is when there is a divided highway with at least a 20 feet wide divided area separating the opposing lanes. The only place in Baxter County I can think of where this exists is on the Highway 62/412 Bypass. What you may not know, is that if you’re not paying attention and pass the stopped bus, you’re not necessarily off the hook just because a police officer isn’t there to witness it. Nope, under a special legislative act, the school bus drivers have a process whereby they can document the description of your vehicle and your license plate number, along with other descriptors, and turn that information over to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to have you charged. Under this act, the registered owner of the vehicle is presumed to be the driver and thus the registered owner can be ticketed or have an arrest warrant served on him or her days or weeks after the fact. Anybody convicted of Passing a Stopped School bus can expect to be fined from $250.00 minimum to $1,000.00 maximum, be sentenced for up to 90 days in the county jail, and SHALL have his or her driver’s license suspended for no less than 21 days or more than one year. All that just for the first offense!! That’s a pretty hefty price to pay, and rightfully so I suppose, so let’s everyone pay attention and stop for those buses. The kids deserve it.
There is also an upcoming event that I want mention. On Saturday, September 11, 2010, the Fraternal Order of Police - Mountain Home Lodge #45, of which several deputies are members, will be sponsoring a “5K RUN TO REMEMBER”. This run was designed to commemorate the tragic events that occurred on 9/11 and honor those victims and their families who suffered so terribly through it. The run will commence at the Gaston’s Visitor Center at the Bull Shoals Dam and will end at the pavilion at the Bull Shoals-White River State Park. Registration begins at 7 AM, and the run starts at 8 AM. Registration is $20.00 in advance or $25.00 on the day of the run and includes an official T-shirt for the run. Any F.O.P. members should be able to provide you with a runner’s registration form, or they will be available at the registration booth on the day of the run. We hope to have a good turn out for this event.
One last thing I want to mention. For those of you who have scanners, you will fully understand what I’m talking about. It all began probably 9 or 10 months ago. All of the sudden we started getting interference over our Sheriff’s Office radio frequency from some taxi cab company. It would start up about 8:30 in the evening and run until the wee hours of the morning. It was progressively getting worse. At times it was so bad that our radio system became useless because of the non-stop chitter chatter from these taxi cab drivers. Initially, we thought it was just “skip” that was temporary and would dissipate in the short term. Instead, it grew consistently more intense. Several of us were finally able to determine from picking up clues we overheard on the radio that the taxi company was operating somewhere in Oxford, Mississippi. We knew they couldn’t possibly be licensed to operate on the same frequency band as law enforcement. Once we felt we had sufficient details, we contacted the Federal Communications Commission District Director’s Office in New Orleans. He promptly dispatched two of their investigators to Mountain Home to meet with us and begin an investigation. I don’t have details on exactly what they found out or how exactly that they solved the problem, but solve it they did. Within about 3 days, the interference from the taxi company had ceased completely and has never returned. What a huge sigh of relief that was !!! Thank you FCC. You have our gratitude.
Well, that’s all for this newsletter. I hope everyone enjoys the rest of your summer.
Capt. Jeff Lewis,
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